A federal judge in California sentenced two men behind a massive identity theft scheme to 25 years in prison Wednesday.
The men were members of a street gang known as Armenian Power. According to the indictment, Angus Brown, 36, and Arman Sharopetrosian, 33, worked with members of African-American street gangs to bribe bank employees to get information allowing them to take over bank accounts. The scheme bilked victims out of at least $8 million, authorities said.
All totaled, 20 people were charged with involvement in the case. According to the FBI, both Brown and Sharopetrosian were already incarcerated when they launched the scheme and led the identity theft ring from Avenal State Prison. At the time, Brown was serving a sentence for identity theft, while Sharopetrosian was serving a 10-year sentence for shooting at an occupied vehicle and carrying a concealed weapon.
According to the FBI, Sharopetrosian and Brown led the ring, which stole bank information from mostly elderly victims who prosecutors said were targeted because the thieves thought they would be less likely to become aware their identities were being compromised. Using the personal information and the forged signatures of the victims, the crew deposited high-dollar checks into accounts set up by members of the conspiracy. The defendants also recruited bank insiders to target individual bank accounts and to illegally obtain confidential personal and financial information.
In court papers, prosecutors wrote that the defendants’ “express purpose was to target bank customers with large-value accounts who were not proficient in checking up on their accounts via the Internet” and that they “sought to use that information to plunder the victims’ life savings," the FBI said.
Sharopetrosian was found guilty of one count of bank fraud conspiracy, four counts of bank fraud, and seven counts of aggravated identify fraud in March. He was also named in a racketeering indictment returned by a federal grand jury in Los Angeles that targeted the Armenian Power gang, and is pending trial in that case.
Brown pleaded guilty in December 2011 to conspiracy to commit bank fraud conspiracy, bank fraud, and 17 counts of aggravated identity theft.
All 20 defendants named in the fraud indictment have been convicted, with many scheduled to be sentenced in the coming months.