Two Ex-Officials Of Armenian Consulate Arrested

By Sue Doyle

Contra Costa Times
July 28 2009

Federal authorities have arrested five people – including two former
Armenian Consulate officials – suspected of selling documents to at
least 24 convicted Armenian felons in the U.S. to help them avoid
deportation to Armenia.

The five, accused of obstructing U.S. Immigration and Customs
Enforcement proceedings, appeared Tuesday in U.S. District Court

The arrests that began Monday followed a two-year investigation of
the scheme, which was allegedly generated by word of mouth through
the Armenian community.

Felons allegedly paid up to $35,000 each for the documents.

"The charges raised in this case are extremely serious and very
troubling," said Robert Schoch, special agent in charge of ICE
investigations in Los Angeles.

"The defendants allegedly exploited their community ties and knowledge
of the immigration system to help dangerous criminals, among others,
avoid deportation."

The arrests include Norair Ghalumian, 52, of Burbank, who served as
the Armenian consul in Los Angeles from 1999 to 2003.

Hakop Hovanesyan, 54, of Glendale, another former employee of the
Armenian Consulate in Los Angeles, was arrested Monday.

Ghalumian and Hovanesyan were not working for the Armenian Consulate
when they were allegedly engaged in the suspected crimes, said Thom
Mrozek, U.S. Attorney’s Office spokesman.

Other arrests include Margarita Lazarian, 41, of Glendale, who works
as an immigration

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attorney for Inman and Associates in Beverly Hills. Elvis Madatyan,
47, of Glendale and Oganes Nardos, 36, of Valencia are also accused.

The charges carry a maximum penalty of five years in prison.

Authorities allege the five worked independently using contacts in
the Armenian government to get letters issued from the former Soviet
Union republic stating there was no record of these people being
Armenian citizens.

But federal officials believe these are Armenian citizens who
are subject to deportation. Nearly all had felony convictions in
U.S. courts, which led to deportation procedures, Mrozek said.

Mrozek said there are likely more people who paid thousands of dollars
for fraudulent letters.

Through search warrants, immigration officials have confiscated
additional refusal letters and official stationery from the Armenian
Consulate from homes and offices of the five arrested.

"These defendants endangered the safety and security of United States
residents," said U.S. Attorney Thomas P. O’Brien.

Meanwhile the future of the felons who allegedly paid for the bogus
letters remains unclear.

Officials will review the people involved on a case-by-case basis,
said ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice.