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Jeweler Cleared in Drug Money Laundering Case

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ruling that there was insufficient evidence, U.S. District Judge William D. Keller on Thursday acquitted one of 10 defendants being tried for allegedly laundering millions of dollars in drug profits through Los Angeles’ downtown jewelry district.

Vasken Anouchian, 25, of Glendale, a former worker at Andonian Bros. jewelers on West 5th Street, was acquitted after prosecutors finished presenting their evidence against the 10 defendants in the jury trial that has gone on for nearly four months.

Lawyers for all 10 defendants asked for acquittals, but Keller acted only for Anouchian.

More than 30 people were indicted by the government over a two-year period, charged with laundering hundreds of millions of dollars in drug profits through the city’s numerous downtown jewelry firms. The money-laundering cases are believed to be among the largest of their kind uncovered in the United States.

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Some of the defendants have already pleaded guilty, including three in the Andonian case.

Most of the defendants are Armenians, a fact that did not go unnoticed by Anouchian’s lawyer, David R. Reed. “This was an Armenian witch hunt from Day 1,” Reed told United Press International after Keller’s decision.

The government prosecutors, Assistant U.S. Attys. Russell Hayman and Jean Kawahara, declined to comment on the ruling.

Mainly because of the number of defendants, three federal judges have been assigned to try the cases. So far, the only trial to have begun is the one in Keller’s courtroom.

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The defendants now before Keller were charged in a 30-count indictment with participating in a conspiracy to launder approximately $350 million in drug proceeds through the Andonian firm between 1986 and 1988.

Anouchian, the defendant who was acquitted, was charged with conspiracy to distribute narcotics and conspiracy to launder drug profits for South American drug traffickers.

Reed said that his client “facilitated wire transfers of large sums of money,” but that the prosecution failed to prove Anouchian knew he was participating in a narcotics or money-laundering conspiracy.

Reed said that evidence of money-laundering activities secretly videotaped by the government showed that Anouchian “was operating jewelry machinery outside of the money-counting room.” On the videotape, Anouchian was shown cutting gold chains.

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“This victory proves the Armenian people can get a fair trial, and we’re gratified by the judge’s astute ruling after two years of courtroom battles,” Reed said.

Following Keller’s decision, defense attorneys began their arguments on behalf of the remaining defendants. The trial is expected to last another month.


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