Ex-Travel Agent Gets 85-Year Term in Slaying


Despite his plea for leniency, a former Glendale travel agent who twice beat robbery-murder charges was sentenced Monday to 85 years in prison on federal charges related to the 1994 slaying of a business competitor.

Garen Zakarian, 32, was convicted in October of five felony counts, including three weapons charges and two charges of obstructing interstate commerce by robbery and physical violence, in the death of Benita Mikailian, who ran the Travel Town agency in Glendale.

Zakarian told Judge Stephen V. Wilson that his family, including children ages 4 and 6, have gone through much stress because of the case.


“I would ask the court, give me something that I can bear and not completely destroy the family,” he said.

“I’m really sorry for her death. . . . This sad story hurt both sides. We suffered and we’re still suffering. That continues.”

His defense lawyer claimed that Zakarian, who ran the EconoTrans agency in Glendale, was framed by a former employee working for an Armenian crime syndicate, and that he did not kill Mikailian in her office on Oct. 5, 1994.

But Zakarian and his sister and business partner, Anait Zakarian, were charged with Mikailian’s slaying almost immediately. Anait Zakarian was accidentally released by sheriff’s deputies and remains at large.

In December 1995, Garen Zakarian was acquitted of murder in Superior Court. But federal agents, who were investigating him on related charges, arrested Zakarian two months later.

In June, a jury convicted him on two federal offenses involving possession of a silencer, but deadlocked on charges related to the killing, resulting in a mistrial.


Prosecutors vowed to retry the case.

They contended that on the day Mikailian was killed, Zakarian was in danger of stranding 80 Armenian customers en route to Los Angeles from Paris because of an airline scheduling change.

Prosecutors said Zakarian called Mikailian, ordered 80 Northwest Airlines tickets and planned to get them to Paris the next day. Then Zakarian sent two $21,000 checks to Mikailian, but Mikailian found that he had insufficient funds in the bank and refused to provide the tickets, authorities said.

Prosecutors said Zakarian went to see Mikailian that night, carrying a silencer-equipped .38-caliber Beretta and a machine gun. He shot her five times in the chest, then took a stack of documents he believed were plane tickets but were actually bookkeeping receipts, prosecutors said.

Wilson, responding to defense statements before sentencing Monday, said that the arguments seemed more appropriate in seeking a new trial and that he anticipated an appeal of the October conviction. However, the matter at hand was sentencing, and the guidelines called for him to consider that a murder occurred during a robbery, he said.

Wilson sentenced Zakarian to 1,020 months, saying that if he is ever released from prison he must be supervised for five years. The judge gave Zakarian credit for 14 months served in custody.

Prosecutors and Mikailian’s relatives, frustrated by Zakarian’s earlier success in beating murder charges, said the verdict in the federal case was fair.


“I just knew there was going to be justice,” said Mikailian’s brother, Seroj Mikailian, outside the courtroom. Added U.S. Atty. Nora M. Manella: “This case was prosecuted to rectify a grave miscarriage of justice.”