Man Admits Role in Nationwide Card Fraud, Money Laundering Scheme

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A stack of money. Heap of one hundred dollar bills on money background. Fake money. Shallow depth of field. Selective focus.

SAN DIEGO – A former Glendale resident pleaded guilty today to engaging in a long-running, nationwide fraud conspiracy that stole unwitting victims’ financial information by skimming it from ATMs and gas pumps in San Diego and across the country, and used the stolen information to make phony credit and debit cards.  Seven men in total are charged with participating in that conspiracy, and in a related money laundering conspiracy, that netted over a million dollars in ill-gotten gains.

Defendant Arsen Minasyan entered a guilty plea today before U.S. Magistrate Judge Linda Lopez to participating in a conspiracy to launder the proceeds of fraud committed by unauthorized access devices: essentially, fake credit and debit cards used as part of the fraud scheme.

The indictment alleges that Minasyan and his co-defendants worked together to steal unwitting victims’ credit and debit card information by using skimming devices installed in common points of sale such as gas pumps and ATMs.  With the stolen information in hand, the conspirators made a host of unauthorized cards that they then used to buy postal money orders and make withdrawals from victims’ accounts.

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“This office will not tolerate those who prey upon unwitting victims innocently using the financial system for their everyday needs,” said U.S. Attorney Robert Brewer, “nor thieves’ criminal partners who launder their money.  Both fraudsters and their money laundering accomplices will face justice.”  Brewer praised prosecutor Nick Pilchak and U.S. Secret Service agents for their excellent work on this case.

“The fraudulent compromise of individuals’ financial security threatens our economic stability and security as a whole, and will not go undetected,” said San Diego Acting Special Agent in Charge of Secret Service Timothy Scott. “I commend the especially skilled investigators who worked tirelessly to detect these defendants and their criminal activity, despite their futile efforts to operate in the shadows.”

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In his plea agreement, Minasyan admitted that he and another defendant had between them $13,380 in illicit cash and 68 phony cards on just a single day last summer during the conspiracy.  Minasyan acknowledged that the entire scheme inflicted losses and attempted losses of at least $1.2 million on its victims, and that he personally participated in the scheme in Glendale, New York, Oklahoma, and Southern California.

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According to the charges in the indictment, the conspiracy victimized individuals and their accounts across the country: in New York, Illinois, Missouri, Oklahoma, and at over a dozen post offices in Southern California, including throughout the San Diego area, where the perpetrators used stolen cards to buy hundreds of thousands of dollars of postal money orders, which they then laundered through the banks.

The money laundering charges detail how three defendants—the Simonyan brothers and their accomplice, Minasyan—laundered the criminal funds through shell bank accounts and structured withdrawals.  For example, in one month alone, the Simonyan brothers allegedly withdrew $91,500 in cash from a single bank account in structured amounts under $10,000 to avoid the threshold for reporting the withdrawals to the authorities.

Minasyan is set to be sentenced February 24 at 9:30 a.m. by U.S. District Judge Michael M. Anello. The remaining defendants are next in court on January 13, 2021 before Judge Anello.

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Anyone who believes that they may be a victim of this offense can visit the U.S. Department of Justice’s large case website for more information: www.justice.gov/largecases.

DEFENDANTS                                Age                             Case Number 20cr314-MMA         

  1. Davit Simonyan                            30                                Residence: Glendale, California
  2. Vahram Simonyan                        34                                Residence: Glendale, California
  3. Arsen Minasyan                            34                                Residence: Western Region Detention Facility
  4. Gor Plavchyan                              26                                Residence: Winnetka, California
  5. Arsen Galstyan                             40                                Residence: Glendale, California
  6. Mukuch Mkrtchyan                      32                                Residence: Fair Oaks, California
  7. Smbat Shahinyan                          41                                Residence: Glendale, California

 

SUMMARY OF CHARGES

Conspiracy to Launder Monetary Instruments, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1956(h) (Defendants 1 through 3 only)

Maximum Penalty: Twenty years in prison; fine of $500,000 or twice the value of the property involved

Conspiracy to Possess Fifteen or More Unauthorized Access Devices, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Sections 1029(b)(2), 1029(a)(3), and 1029(c)(1)(A)(i) (Defendants 1 and 3–7 only)

Maximum Penalty: Five years in prison; fine of $250,000 or twice the gross gain or loss


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