Monday, April 4, 2011
Glendale Attorney Pleads Not Guilty to Fraud Charges
By SHERRI M. OKAMOTO, Staff Writer
A Glendale attorney accused of participating in a large-scale insurance scam by filing false claims for staged accidents pled not guilty on Friday to nine additional fraud charges lodged against him last week.
The amended complaint against John Akopian, 39, was filed Wednesday in case No. BA363494 and a preliminary hearing is scheduled for May 4, a spokesperson for the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office said.
Akopian was charged in October 2009 with 38 counts of grand theft of personal property, insurance fraud, money laundering, receiving stolen property and possession of an assault weapon. He also pleaded not guilty to these charges.
Ten persons were arrested last Wednesday in Compton, Glendale, Hollywood, Long Beach and Los Angeles on charges they conspired with Akopian to defraud an insurance company of more than $74,000 through three staged accidents, the spokesperson said.
The prosecutor for the case, Deputy District Attorney Gregory Alker of the Automobile Insurance Fraud Division, said Akopian remained freed on bail posted after the initial arraignment on the original charges and had not been re-arrested.
Akopian is among 28 defendants alleged to be associates of Alexander Igor Gutman of Sherman Oaks, accused of having defrauded 15 insurance companies through false claims for staged accidents, collectively netting more than $450,000.
Gutman, 49, was suspected of receiving millions of dollars in proceeds from some 2,600 staged accidents between November 2002 and January 2008, the D.A. spokesperson said.
He was arrested in May 2008 by investigators of the District Attorney’s Bureau of Investigation, as part of a 12-month Urban Auto Insurance Fraud Task Force investigation dubbed “Operation Big Fish,” involving 16 agencies and thousands of hours of work.
Gutman pled guilty to 15 counts of insurance fraud in case No. BA340194 in February 2009. He is scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 15.
Alker said 89 individuals with alleged ties to Gutman have been charged in multiple cases, including attorneys Leon Rubin Laufer of Beverly Hills, Edward Leonid Katsnelson of Carona, and Stephen Marshall Weiss of Los Angeles.
In February Laufer, 59, pled no contest to one felony count of reckless disregard for accepting illegal referrals, while Weiss, 63, pled no contest to one felony count of insurance fraud, both pursuant to negotiated agreements.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Lance Ito accepted their pleas and sentenced each of them to three years of probation. The attorneys were also ordered to perform 250 hours of community service and jointly paid more than $145,000 in restitution to nine insurance companies.
Katsnelson entered a plea to a felony count of knowingly presenting a false insurance claim and was ordered to pay nearly $40,000 in restitution and perform 250 hours of community service.
Akopian has no public record of discipline, according to the State Bar website. He earned his law degree from the University of West Los Angeles after attending the University of La Verne and was licensed to practice in 1995.
Phone calls to the number for the Law Offices of John Akopian & Associates were not answered on Friday.
Akopian faces up to 29 years in prison if convicted of all charges, Alker said.
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