A 44-year-old North Hollywood man was indicted on a charge of being the ringleader of a smuggling ring that brought Armenian nationals into the U.S. through Moscow and Mexico.
Grigor Chatalyan was arrested Sunday trying to enter the U.S. from Mexico at the San Ysidro border crossing. prosecutors said. He was arraigned in San Diego federal court Monday and an indictment was unsealed.
Two Glendale residents -- Varduhi Avagyan, 42, and Meri Avetisyan, 40 -- were arrested in November on suspicion of attempting to smuggle two Armenian nationals into the U.S., officials said. Officials accused them of coordinating with Chatalyan.
Prosecutors accuse the group of charging Armenian nationals up to $18,000 to be flown to Moscow where they were given phony Russian passports to travel to Cancun, Mexico.
Once in Cancun, they were brought to Tijuana where they received immigration documents that had been issued to other people, prosecutors said.
Chatalyan and the two co-defendants are charged with conspiracy and smuggling illegal immigrants for profit. Chatalyan is also charged with identity theft.