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Gangsters Skimmed Millions From 99 Cents Only Shoppers

Robin Hood robbed from the rich and gave to the poor. A group of people who worked as part of an Armenian Power gang enterprise took millions from 99 Cents Only store customers and their banks.

Eight defendants pleaded guilty to to being a part of the gang's crimes, federal prosecutors announced late yesterday. Four of the eight are Armenian Pride members or associates, prosecutors say. The other four were nonmembers affiliated with the conspiracy:

The eight this week copped to a buttload of charges that include racketeering conspiracy, bank fraud, aggravated identity theft, drug-trafficking and illegal possession of firearms, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office in L.A.

The defendants are among 70 who were charged in a 140-count indictment. U.S. Attorney's spokesman Thom Mrozek says:

The racketeering indictment alleges a bank fraud and identity theft scheme that victimized hundreds of customers of 99 Cents Only Stores across Southern California. Through the scheme, defendants caused more than $2 million in losses when they secretly installed sophisticated "skimming" devices to steal customer debit card account information at cash registers, and then used the skimmed information to create counterfeit debit cards that were used to steal money from victims' bank accounts.

A U.S. Attorney's statement ID'd the guilty and their crimes:

Karo Yerkanyan, also known as "Guilty," 32, of Tujunga, who pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy, bank fraud, aggravated identity theft, conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute marijuana, and felon in possession of a firearm;

Arman Tangabekyan, aka "Spito and "Thick Neck," 34, of Encino, who pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy, bank fraud and aggravated identity theft;

Artur Pembejian, aka "Cham," 36, of Burbank, who pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy;

Raymond Tarverdyan, aka "Rye," 35, of Montrose, who pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy and bank fraud;

Simon Antonyan, aka "Simo," 38, of Hollywood, who pleaded guilty to aggravated identity theft;

Khachatur Arakelyan, aka "Khecho," 39, of Glendale, who pleaded guilty to aggravated identity theft;

Vartenie Ananian, 29, of Tujunga, who pleaded guilty to bank fraud; and

Adam Davoodian, 32, of Glendale, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute marijuana.

At sentencing Nov. 25 the defendants face 2 to 102 years, depending on their crimes, prosecutors said. But since they pleaded guilty we think they'll probably catch a break.

Fifty-one others who have been indicted as part of the ring have already pleaded guilty, feds said.

Mrozek has a nice summary of the gang's bio here:

According to court documents, the Armenian Power street gang formed in the East Hollywood district of Los Angeles in the 1980s. The gang's membership consisted primarily of individuals of Armenian descent, as well as of other countries within the former Soviet bloc. The Armenian Power has been designated under California state law as a criminal street gang and is believed to have over 250 documented members, as well as hundreds of associates. According to court documents, Armenian Power members and associates regularly carry out violent criminal acts, including murders, attempted murders, kidnappings, robberies, extortions, and witness intimidation in order to enrich its members and associates and preserve and enhance the power of the criminal enterprise.

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