Jurors have started deliberating in the case of a Glendale man accused of bank fraud and stealing the identities of hundreds of 99 Cents Only store customers.
Glendale resident Rafael Parsadanyan is one of three men, including Mher Darbinyan and Arman Sharopetrosian, on trial for their roles in the fraud schemes, which were reportedly tied to an organized crime ring called Armenian Power.
But Parsadanyan’s attorney Andrew Flier argued that his client, who owned a cellphone store and reportedly has no gang ties, is innocent and lumped in with the other defendants.
“You know how scary it is to defend an innocent person?” he asked jurors Friday during his closing argument in U.S. District Court.
Prosecutors alleged that Darbinyan obtained credit-card skimming devices and distributed to co-schemers who would then secretly plant them at 99 Cents Only stores across Southern California, resulting in a loss of more than $2 million for victims.
Darbinyan and Parsadanyan reportedly distributed the victims’ stolen information to co-schemers, who used fraudulent credit cards to withdraw from their bank accounts, according to the federal indictment.
Flier claimed the prosecutors’ only evidence tying his clients to the other defendants is a series of phone calls, which he alleges are inconclusive and vague.
Still, the scheme was part of a larger investigation into the activities of an organized crime ring, which Darbinyan reportedly led, according to the U.S. attorney’s office. Darbinyan also faces racketeering and weapons charges.
Eight people pleaded guilty last September to various charges that included conspiracy, racketeering, bank fraud and identity theft.
The eight men, including Glendale, Burbank and Montrose residents, were among 70 people charged in a 140-count indictment against the gang. At least 51 defendants have pleaded guilty, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.
Armenian Power formed in East Hollywood in the 1980s and is believed to have more than 250 documented members and hundreds of associates.
Prosecutors have alleged some defendants stole bank account information and used fraudulent checks to transfer funds into their own accounts.
The men’s attorneys argued prosecutors brought on unreliable and violent members of the Mexican Mafia to testify about their involvement in the scheme.
“It was only done to scare you,” Darbinyan’s attorney Michael Severo told jurors.
Sharopetrosian’s attorney Charles Pereyra-Suarez said his client was not involved with the organization and its activities because he was in prison at the time. Sharopetrosian is accused of bank fraud, conspiracy and racketeering.
But Assistant U.S. Atty. Elizabeth Yang argued on Friday the men intended to steal from the banks.