Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Beverly Hills Lawyer Charged With Immigration Scheme
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
Five persons, including the former Armenian consul in Los Angeles and a local immigration attorney, appeared before a U.S. magistrate judge yesterday after being arrested on charges they obtained and sold to illegal aliens documents called “letters of refusal,” which allowed those illegal aliens to avoid deportation.
Attorney Margarita Mkrtchyan, 41, was arrested Monday night, a spokesperson for U.S. Attorney Thomas O’Brien of the Central District of California said, as was former consular employee Hakop Hovanesyan, 54.
Norair Ghalumian, 52, of Burbank, the Armenian consul in Los Angeles from 1999 through 2003, was arrested yesterday morning, as were Oganes Nardos, 36, of Valencia, a substance abuse counselor, and Elvis Madatyan, 47, of Glendale.
Prosecutors explained that embassies and consulates may issue letters of refusal stating that a country will not issue a travel document for a particular individual, essentially blocking that person’s deportation to that nation. They allege that the five defendants sold official letters of refusal from the Armenian consulate for as much as $35,000, preventing the removal of certain Armenian nationals, including convicted felons, to that country.
The defendants, who are named in four separate criminal complaints, are accused of obstructing proceedings before U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a crime punishable by up to five years in prison. O’Brien’s spokesperson said ICE had executed search warrants at Mkrtchyan’s residence in Glendale, Hovanesyan’s travel agency and at Nardos’ residence and seized further evidence related to the case, including additional refusal letters and official stationary from the consulate.
A government press release identified Mkrtchyan as an attorney with the Beverly Hills firm Inman and Associates, and State Bar records and the firm’s website still list her as working there. But the head of that firm, former INS General Counsel Maurice Inman Jr., said she had not worked there in six months.
He said he believed Mkrtchyan was practicing in Glendale and that he had no knowledge of any illegal activities in which she might have been engaged.
In an affidavit accompanying the complaint against Mkrtchyan, an ICE agent who is a native Armenian speaker alleged that in July of last year, Mkrtchyan met with an undercover agent—also a native Armenian speaker—who supposedly had a relative in ICE custody and told him that a letter of refusal could be obtained for $35,000, which the agent paid to Mkrtchyan in cash. A letter of refusal was issued, signed by the vice consul, stating that the relative would not be issued a travel document because his Armenian citizenship could not be documented.
The agent went on to say that earlier this month, the undercover agent introduced him to Mkrtchyan as an individual also seeking to prevent the deportation of a relative, and that Mkrtchyan said it could be done on the same terms as in the previous case.
State Bar Records
State Bar records show that Mkrtchyan was admitted to the State Bar in 2004, and that she graduated from law school at the University of LaVerne in Woodland Hills after attending college in Armenia. A call to a telephone number listed for Mkrtchyan on the State Bar’s website reached a recording saying the voice mailbox was full.
O’Brien said in a statement:
“The charges in this case allege that deportable aliens, some with serious felony convictions, were able to remain in the United States. These defendants endangered the safety and security of United States residents.”
The defendants allegedly obtained clients via word of mouth in the Armenian community. According to the criminal complaints, the defendants used contacts in the Armenian government to procure official refusal letters on behalf of their clients, then sent the letters to ICE. A spokesperson said the agency’s investigation has been ongoing for two years and is continuing.
Copyright 2009, Metropolitan News Company