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102 Indicted in Armenian Power Shake-Up

(CN) - On the heels of the January takedown of New York's "five families," authorities on Wednesday arrested more than 80 members of Armenian Power, a racketeering enterprise with a Los Angeles stronghold.

Prosecutors unsealed six indictments that charge 102 members and associates of the Armenian Power in Los Angeles, Santa Ana, Calif., Miami and Denver. Arrests are expected to continue all day, according to the Justice Department.

"Today's indictments allege literally hundreds of criminal acts in three states - from extortion and kidnapping to firearms trafficking and health care fraud," Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer said in a statement.

Authorities say the arrests stem from a two-year investigation known as Operation Power Outage. The fresh indictments follow the Jan. 20 filing of charges against 127 people associated with mob-related crimes on the East Coast. The FBI that day arrested 110 members of New York's five families - Genovese, Gambino, Colombo, Luchese and Bonanno - as well as members of New Jersey's DeCavalcante family.

"These groups bring fear into our communities, defraud innocent victims, and put the safety and security of our neighborhoods at risk," Breuer said in the statement. "We are taking an aggressive stand against these organized criminal groups and will continue our efforts to put them out of business."

Two indictments unsealed in Los Angeles charge 88 people, many of whom belong to the Armenian Power, with crimes such as kidnapping, extortion, assault, witness intimidation, fraud, racketeering and drug distribution, according to the Justice Department. Another 11 alleged AP members are charged with state crimes.

Prosecutors say the AP syndicate started as a street gang in East Hollywood, Calif., in the 1980s.

"The financial fraud crimes allegedly committed on behalf of AP were highly sophisticated, targeting thousands of victims and resulting in millions of dollars of actual and intended losses to banks and individual victims," according to the Justice Department.

Prosecutors linked the AP to a pervasive fraud that victimized Southern California dollar-store customers through sophisticated credit card skimmers and a large-scale check fraud scheme.

Many of the same people charged in the first indictment also make appearance in the second Los Angeles filing, which charges the AP associates with ripping off the elderly.

"The conspirators paid bank insiders for the confidential information, which included social security numbers and passwords used to access the accounts," according to the Justice Department. "According to the indictment, the conspirators then used that information to take control of the bank accounts and stole at least $10 million from hundreds of accounts."

Two of the alleged co-conspirators used smuggled mobile phones to coordinate bank fraud schemes while in state prison, prosecutors say.

The indictment alleges that the AP has close ties to the Mexican Mafia, a prison gang that controls the California prison drug trade, and to high-level figures in Armenian and Russian organized crime groups.

A related case in Miami charges 13 defendants with charges such as extortion conspiracy, various frauds, and firearms smuggling. Three indictments in total were unsealed in that court.

In Denver, 24-year-old Nadezda Nikitina is charged with bank fraud, wire fraud and lying on credit and loan applications.

"The indictment charges that Nikitina, acting under the control of a transnational criminal group, established a shell company and then used that shell company to apply for business and personal credit cards, car loans and leases, consumer loans and a home equity loan," according to the Justice Department.

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