Three Defendants Charged In Organized Crime Money Laundering Scheme

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Canvas money bag spilling over with cold hard cash!

Audrey Strauss, United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Aaron C. Rouse, Special Agent in Charge of the Las Vegas Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), announced today the unsealing of an indictment charging YOSEF COHEN, a/k/a “Joe,” VAGUE SHAGENOVICH TERGALSTANYAN, a/k/a “Vahe,” a/k/a “Vic,” and IGAL BEN HANAN with conspiracy to commit money laundering. 

TERGALSTANYAN and COHEN were arrested and presented in California on July 9, 2021, and July 12, 2021, respectively, and will be arraigned in Manhattan federal court at a later date.  BEN HANAN was arrested on July 12, 2021, and will be presented later today in Nevada.  The case is assigned to U.S. District Judge Laura Taylor Swain.

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said: “As alleged, the defendants conspired to launder millions of dollars of illicit proceeds.  Thanks to the hard work of the FBI, the defendants face serious federal charges.”

FBI Special Agent-in-Charge Aaron C. Rouse said: “This case is an outstanding example that demonstrates the strength of the FBI’s partnerships with national and international law enforcement.  The FBI takes pride in combating the most dangerous crime organizations in the world.  This should be a wake-up call to criminals that regardless of where they think they can hide, the FBI and our partners will find them and bring them to justice.” 

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According to the allegations in the Indictment:[1]

COHEN, TERGALSTANYAN, and BEN HANAN worked on behalf of organized criminal enterprises operating in several countries around the world.  In recorded conversations with undercover law enforcement officers (the “UCs”) who represented themselves to be members of an international organized criminal enterprise that distributed narcotics and laundered money, the defendants planned money laundering transactions of narcotics proceeds and discussed moving tens of millions of dollars of illicit money on behalf of international criminal organizations.  The defendants conspired to execute, and did execute, money laundering transactions with the UCs and others known and unknown.

On several occasions, the defendants arranged for the UCs to pick up narcotics proceeds, in cash, from locations in the United States and then deliver the cash to the defendants, minus a percentage-based fee paid to the UCs for laundering the proceeds.  For example, as arranged by the defendants, the UCs picked up approximately $208,000 in cash in Medford, New York, and delivered the cash, minus an arranged fee, to TERGALSTANYAN in California.  In addition to discussing money laundering transactions with a UC who was in New York, New York, TERGALSTANYAN later proposed that the UCs pick up and launder one to two million dollars of marijuana proceeds in cash every week in Manhattan. 

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In another scheme, for example, the defendants conspired to fraudulently obtain a business visa for BEN HANAN so that BEN HANAN could move to the United States.  In order for BEN HANAN to obtain a business visa, BEN HANAN’s purported business needed funds on deposit that appeared to be legitimate investments.  COHEN proposed that the UCs provide COHEN with $150,000 in cash, and COHEN would use COHEN’s purported businesses to provide funds to BEN HANAN’s purported business.  The UCs provided the cash to COHEN, which was represented to be narcotics proceeds that had not yet been laundered.  Subsequent wire transfers sent by the defendants to the UCs as repayment were falsely described by the defendants as accounting for a particular month or time period, so as to appear like legitimate business transactions.

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YOSEF COHEN, 58, of Calabasas, California, VAGUE SHAGENOVICH TERGALSTANYAN, 38, of Glendale, California, and IGAL BEN HANAN, 43, of Las Vegas, Nevada, were each charged with one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1956(h), which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.  The maximum potential sentence is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendants would be determined by a judge.

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Ms. Strauss praised the outstanding investigative work of the FBI.  This prosecution is part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) operation.  OCDETF identifies, disrupts, and dismantles the highest-level criminal organizations that threaten the United States using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency approach.  Additional information about the OCDETF Program can be found at https://www.justice.gov/OCDETF.

This case is being handled by the Office’s Narcotics Unit.  Assistant United States Attorney Micah F. Fergenson is in charge of the prosecution.

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