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Attorneys Say Colleagues Swiped Money|Intended for Armenian Genocide Victims

LOS ANGELES (CN) - Two attorneys claim their co-counsel in two class actions that won insurance benefits for victims of the Armenian genocide diverted and laundered almost $1 million from settlements meant for charities to help the Armenian community. "It is with deep sadness that plaintiffs bring this action," Mark Geragos and Brian Kabateck say in their Superior Court complaint.

They sued Vartkes Yeghiayan, Rita Mahdessian, the Center for Armenian Remembrance aka Conservatoire de la Memoire Armenienne, and Yeghiyian Law Corp.

Geragos and Kabateck claim that Yeghiayan "created a sham charity as a means by which he could funnel monies for his own personal charity - himself."

Yeghiayan created the Center for Armenian Remembrance in 2005, after a settlement with the New York Life Insurance Company, "to defraud class members, the court and the Armenian community," according to the complaint.

Under the New York Life settlement, the class counsel - which included Geragos and Kabateck - were to pick "charity organizations who would receive a total of $3 million in settlement proceeds for work solely to advance the interests of the Armenian community, relieve the needy, and provide direct assistance to orphans, the elderly, disabled, widows and the impoverished," the complaint states.

Geragos and Kabateck claim Yeghiayan hid his relationship with the Center for Armenian Remembrance and claimed that the charity "focused on preserving Armenian history and recognition of the Armenian genocide," so that he could misappropriate charitable funds and launder them.

Because of Yeghiayan's deception, the "sham charity" was "designated recipient of cy pres charity funds" and received $200,000 from the New York Life Unclaimed Benefits Fund, according to the complaint.

Yeghiayan also was co-counsel with the plaintiffs in the Kyurkjian et al. v Axa, S.A. class action, according to the complaint. For this one, Yeghiayan invented the "Conservatoire de la Memoire Armenienne" as a beneficiary of settlement proceeds the complaint states.

But Geragos and Kabateck say: "Strikingly, no such entity exists at the address listed in Paris, France; a simple Google search reveals that CMA is actually linked to the same address as Yeghiayan's law firm."

Geragos and Kabateck say Yeghiayan also listed the "Instituto Per Le Opere Di Religione Citta Del Vatican" to receive $75,000 in settlement funds, but that "institution is merely the Italian name of the Vatican Bank, located in Vatican City." The plaintiffs Yeghiayan "simply distributed these funds to a private bank account under Yeghiayan's control so that he could redistribute the laundered funds to himself."

Geragos and Kabateck says Yeghiayan and Rita Mahdessian served as co-counsel with them in both class actions, "in order to recover insurance benefits that have remained unpaid for nearly 100 years," and which "resulted in settlement disbursements to hundreds of the rightful beneficiaries of the policy holders who were among the 1.5 million Armenians who perished and were unable to obtain their insurance proceeds in the ensuing tragic genocide by Ottoman Turkey."

One million to 1.5 million Armenians were killed during the genocide at the end of World War I, which Turkey continues to deny ever happened, or calls the fortunes of war.

Geragos and Kabateck seek punitive damages for fraud, conversion, breach of fiduciary duty and breach of contract.

They are represented by Richard Kellner with Kabateck Brown and Kellner, and Eugene Harris with Geragos & Geragos.

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