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Ex-Armenian consul arrested in doc scam

July 28, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
Two former Armenian diplomats, a Beverly Hills attorney, and two others are arrested in an alleged immigration scam. They're accused of issuing phony documents. The defendants, all Armenian decent, are accused of selling documents called "letters of refusal" to help convicted felons avoid deportation to Armenia. The fraudulent letters were printed on authentic letterhead from the Armenian Consulate and were sold to at least 20 recipients for as much as $35,000 each.

"It was clearly a huge violation of the U.S. laws that made us keep people around in the United States that had criminal backgrounds that should have been removed to Armenia," said Jennifer Silliman, ICE.

Norair Ghalumian, 52, a former Armenian consul employee; Hakop Hovanesyan, 54, of Glendale, a former consular employee ; Margarita Mkrtchyan, 41, of Glendale, an immigration attorney; Oganes Nardos, 36, of Valencia; and Elvis Madatyan, 47, of Glendale were all arrested within a 24 hour period.

ICE officials say they were all working independently.

"They're loosely confederated, all part of the Armenian community certainly have ties in there but no it would not be characterized as a criminal ring," said Silliman.

They are all accused of obstructing the federal process and conspiracy.

"The letters basically state that the person is not Armenian and therefore not removable to Armenia so when Immigration and Customs Enforcement receives these letters there's nothing we can do. We can't get them a travel document," said Silliman.

The investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is ongoing. Authorities are trying to identify those individuals who purchased those fraudulent "letters of refusal" from the defendants.

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