Agent Must Pay $1 Million to Seniors for Aborted Tours to Armenia

Times Staff Writer

A travel agent has been ordered to pay $1 million in restitution and damages to a group of senior citizens who paid him for tours to Soviet Armenia that never occurred.

Burbank Superior Court Judge Stephen E. O'Neill last week ordered Wartkes Krikor Nazarian, 58, owner of the Vart Travel Agency, to pay the money to 51 senior citizens who bought package tours to the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic. The tours were postponed three times before Nazarian told the senior citizens that he could not arrange the trips.

In a separate court action against Nazarian in March, he pleaded guilty to charges of felony grand theft in connection with the scheme.

He was sentenced to five years probation by a Pasadena Superior Court judge and ordered to pay $62,950 in restitution to the senior citizens.

The senior citizens, members of the Glendale-based Armenian Council on Aging, paid an average of $1,250 each for the tours in June, 1987.

The tours were to include air fare, ground transportation and hotel accommodations in the southern Soviet Republic.

An attorney representing the senior citizens, Rafi Ourfalian, said after the trial that the judgment was "a long-sought vindication for the Armenian American Council on Aging and its members."

Nazarian refused comment on the outcome of the trial.

At last Wednesday's trial, five people testified that they bought tours to Soviet Armenia through Nazarian but never saw their homeland or their money.

The victims testified that they spent their savings on the trips, which were to have been a pilgrimage to the country where many of them were born.

"All our lives we have been dreaming about seeing our motherland," said Hevach Khachatoonian, who paid Nazarian for tours for himself and his wife. "This Nazarian has caused so much anguish and mental cruelty to the entire group. It was an ordeal."

The money awarded to the plaintiffs was about $200,000 more than the $712,950 they had sought.

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