LOS ANGELES (LA Times)–Five people, including a former Armenian consul in Los Angeles and a Beverly Hills immigration attorney, have been arrested on charges that they sold official letters to illegal immigrants to help them avoid deportation, prosecutors said today.
The arrests, which took place in the last 24 hours, were the result of a two-year investigation by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.
The five are accused of supplying so-called letters of refusal from the Armenian Consulate for as much as $35,000 apiece, according to a statement from the U.S. attorney’s office for the Central District of California.
These letters state that a country will not issue a travel document for a particular individual, essentially blocking that person’s deportation to that nation.
Investigators believe many of those who purchased the letters were Armenian nationals facing deportation after being convicted of felony offenses in the United States.
“These defendants endangered the safety and security of United States residents,” U.S Attorney Thomas P. O’Brien said in the statement.
“The defendants allegedly exploited their community ties and knowledge of the immigration system to help dangerous criminals, among others, avoid deportation,” said Robert Schoch, special agent in charge of the ICE Office of Investigations in Los Angeles.
The five defendants were identified as:
Norair Ghalumian, 52, of Burbank, the Armenian consul in Los Angeles from 1999 through 2003.
Hakop Hovanesyan, 54, of Glendale, a former employee at the Armenian Consulate in Los Angeles and current operator of Regency Travel in Glendale.
Margarita Mkrtchyan, 41, of Glendale, an immigration attorney for Inman & Associates law firm in Beverly Hills, Calif., who was arrested last night.
Oganes Nardos, 36, of Valencia, a substance abuse counselor.
Elvis Madatyan, 47, of Glendale.
They were expected to make initial appearances Tuesday afternoon in United States District Court in downtown Los Angeles.