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Tumanyan said she was frustrated that Burbank law enforcement hadnt done more to solve the crime: The police wont touch it. They are afraid of the gang members, and they wont do anything. She said she was convinced that the Burbank detectives knew the identity of the killer, that she had supplied the leads herself and put her life in danger. That person said they would come and kill me, Tumanyan said.
Burbank Police Detective Matt Miranda sympathizes with Tumanyan, but firmly parried her accusation. She lost her son, and I dont want to call her a liar, but I dont know who killed her son.
Not that police lack leads in the case. They believe Sarkis Antonyan was active in L.A.s Armenian crime syndicate, and that he was slain because of it. He knew the murderer, said former Burbank Police Lieutenant Don Brown, Detective Mirandas supervisor. The store was open. There was no robbery. The guy pumped two bullets into his head. The intent was to hit him and leave.
His murder was over a business venture gone sour or money that was owed. And he was involved in different businesses; weve uncovered people involved in medical fraud, in recycling-scrap-yard activity . . . in ripping the government off.
Organized crime got its notoriety -- and its Hollywood cachet -- from the Italian crime families that grew from turn-of-the-century ethnic communities fed by waves of immigration. And while La Cosa Nostra has withered through years of assimilation and the focused attention of federal law enforcement, new immigrants have brought crime syndicates of their own.
In Orange County and the San Gabriel Valley, that means Asian gangs, and in West Hollywood it translates into Russian organized crime. In those cases, as with the Italian Mafia, the crime organizations were already entrenched in the home countries, and were imported virtually intact, along with some key players.
In Burbank and Glendale, the pattern is more recent, and more fluid. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, those sleepy communities became home to tens of thousands of new immigrants from Armenia, so that Glendale can now claim the largest concentration of Armen-ians outside the capital city of Yerevan. The Armenian National Committee of America has its regional headquarters in Glendale, and in November, the Armenian Music Awards were filmed there and broadcast to an audience of millions around the globe.
Isolated by language and custom, the tide of Armenian immigration was marked by the proliferation of cafes, delis and shish-kebab joints, as well as its own crime scene. Officials with Armenian Solidarity say their crime problem is little different than in other immigrant communities, but a member of Antonyans family, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisals, said that crime shadows the life of her people. This family member attributes the lawlessness primarily to Russian immigrants. We were all new in this country. This was the time of the fall of communism, and a lot of bad people came in from Russia. They would terrorize the Armenian community. There were a lot of cases of people robbing homes, of people terrorizing businesses. That is how they would make money.
Local police dispute one key point of that story: They say Armenians engage in crime as well. Or as Burbanks retired Lieutenant Brown put it, In the Armenian community, theres a small percentage that gear their lives to illegal activities.
State authorities estimate that, of 60,000 Armenians living in Burbank and Glendale, 450 are engaged full time in activities ranging from extortion and auto theft to insurance and credit-card fraud. L.A. County D.A. Steve Cooley terms Russian and Armenian organized crime one of our fastest-growing problems.
According to Sally Thomas, head deputy of Cooleys newly formed Organized Crime Division, the ethnic crime scene is less tightly controlled than more traditional underworld families like the Mafia or the Chinese Triads. Theres no single boss, and theres a lot of freelancing, but this new breed of criminal is equally effective in committing crimes, Thomas said.
The biggest Armenian crime operation identified to date was a black-market network known as the Mikaelian Organ-ization, which commandeered state and federal taxes due from millions of gallons of diesel fuel sold through scores of gas stations and truck stops throughout Southern California. That racket was shut down by 13 arrests in September 1995, but the underworld continues to thrive. Clearly they are operating in organized groups, Thomas said, and they use violence to keep people in line.