Welfare Probe Targets Murder Plot Suspects
When five men were charged several months ago with plotting to kill a local U.S. Secret Service agent, federal authorities in Los Angeles could only describe the plot as audacious.
Now, the district attorney’s office has allegedly uncovered more information about several of the men--in a still-evolving probe of welfare fraud.
Search warrant affidavits show that prosecutors are investigating whether three of the men charged with conspiracy to commit murder have for years been bilking the Los Angeles County welfare system for tens of thousands of dollars in benefits--money that was used for businesses, cars and other symbols of prosperity despite claims of poverty.
Although no charges have been filed, Deputy Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley, who heads the office’s welfare fraud division, said his attorneys are preparing for the possibility of prosecuting the men--and their spouses--for welfare fraud and perjury.
“This case represents a disturbing pattern of people involved in other criminal activities also cheating the welfare system. And these cases are our highest priority,” Cooley said.
In all, Cooley estimated, the losses from three welfare programs--Aid to Families with Dependent Children, Medi-Cal and food stamps--will easily exceed $100,000 and could reach $200,000.
A 40-person task force of district attorney’s investigators served search warrants at more than a dozen houses and business locations recently to obtain evidence of alleged welfare fraud. The warrants were served in connection with investigations of Arshak Kazarian and his wife, Marine Tserunian, of Tujunga; Rafael Kazaryants and his wife, Aida, of North Hollywood; and Steve Sahak Mazmanyan and his wife, Karine Petrosyan, of Montebello. Two other individuals not connected to the federal case are part of the welfare probe.
With no charges filed, attorneys who represent Kazarian and Mazmanyan in their federal cases declined comment on the search warrants.
But attorney Errol H. Stambler dismissed the suggestion that his client, Kazaryants, was involved in welfare fraud.
“My client is pretty perturbed about this,” Stambler said. “He can’t defend himself on this because he is more concerned with the federal offense, which is based upon on a notoriously evil informant.”
Further, Stambler questioned how his client could be considered solvent when he has qualified for a court-appointed attorney under a federal indigent defense program.
Cooley countered that the standards for a court-appointed attorney are different than the standards for receiving welfare.
In September, Kazarian, Kazaryants and Mazmanyan, along with Kazarian’s brother, Robert, and Panos Zhamkochyan were charged in federal court with planning the murder of a Secret Service agent to foil a probe by the agent into alleged wire fraud by Robert Kazarian and eight others.
The purported plot, according to court documents, was hatched while Robert Kazarian was in prison. And, documents say, it included a meeting at a Montebello doughnut shop where Kazaryants and Mazmanyan allegedly discussed the plan with a man they thought could help in the killing. That man, documents show, turned out to be a government informant.
After the federal charges were filed, Cooley said, the district attorney’s office initiated its own probe into welfare fraud. What it uncovered, Cooley said, was troubling.
In statements on affidavits to obtain search warrants--and the subsequent court papers showing what investigators seized--authorities say they found evidence that Arshak Kazarian and his wife had been fraudulently collecting various forms of welfare for the last four years.
While Kazarian’s wife received AFDC payments after reporting that her husband was not living at home, investigators allegedly found evidence--including an FBI report, DMV registration and other records or receipts--that her husband was residing at the address.
In addition, search warrant records say, investigators found documents showing Kazarian had two late-model cars registered to the home and was listed, with his father, as co-borrower on a $509,000 promissory note from a bank in Hollywood.
Similarly, the court documents show, investigators obtained search warrants against the Kazaryantses based on allegations that they were collecting welfare even though he owned and received income from a bail bond business. And his wife, an investigator alleged, worked for a travel agency, grossing nearly $33,000 in ticket purchases from 1995 to this year.
A separate set of search warrants show prosecutors are investigating whether Mazmanyan and his wife also fraudulently collected welfare for the last six years by failing to report that he owned and received income from, beginning seven years ago, an import-export business. Moreover, the documents say, the investigation by federal authorities found that more than $11,000 in cash was found in a briefcase at the couple’s home.
Said Cooley: “It is troubling that we have uncovered a real trend of people involved in other criminal activity benefiting substantially from a system designed to help the needy, not the criminals.”