Police arrest man in cemetery plot scam

DOWNTOWN ? A Burbank resident who fled to Armenia after allegedly bilking 10 area victims out of $65,000 by selling them fake plots at Forest Lawn Glendale is back in the Southland and in custody, authorities said Sunday.

Robert Ovsepyan, 35, was taken into custody by Armenian law enforcement authorities on March 8 , said Det. Tigran Topadzhikyan of the Glendale Police Department. Two members of the FBI's Fugitive Task Force, which worked with Glendale detectives in tracking Ovsepyan down, flew to Armenia's capital of Yerevan over the weekend and brought the suspect back to the Southland Saturday night, officials said.

Ovsepyan arrived Saturday night at LAX, and was interviewed Sunday by Glendale Police detectives, Officer John Balian of the Glendale Police Department said. The investigation into Ovsepyan, who began working for Forest Lawn Glendale in 2004, began in October when Forest Lawn officials contacted Glendale Police after receiving several calls from residents inquiring about their plots, Topadzhikyan said.

"Starting in November 2004 he sold plots to 10 families," Topadzhikyan said. "He received payment in cash from the families and provided them with contracts and receipts, but he never turned the money over to Forest Lawn.

When the families did not receive paperwork back from Forest Lawn they contacted Forest Lawn and were told that there was no record of those purchases.

The fraudulent plot sales allegedly made by Ovsepyan, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Armenia, totaled $65,000, Topadzhikyan said.

By the time investigators tried to find Ovsepyan to question him about the sales, he had already left the country, Topadzhikyan said. The Glendale Police then began working with the FBI and State Department to try to track him down. After forwarding their leads to Armenian authorities, police in that country easily found the fugitive, Topadzhikyan said.

"He had overstayed his visa, so he was there illegally," he said, adding that in addition to the Glendale charges, Ovsepyan was wanted on a federal warrant for unlawful flight from prosecution.

Ovsepyan was booked at Glendale City Jail at 8 p.m. Saturday on nine counts of grand theft, one count of theft from an elder and one count of embezzlement, Topadzhikyan said. He is being held on $300,000 bail and is scheduled to appear in Burbank Superior Court on Tuesday.

While there are some ways for people to protect themselves from scammers, this situation was different because Ovsepyan worked for a reputable mortuary firm, Balian said.

"He took advantage of the situation and in one case, the victim was more than 70 years old and she gave him all of her savings," he said. "He was actually an employee and got these people to trust him. Forest Lawn has been around for many years and when you go to buy a plot from them, you don't think you are going to get scammed."

Most victims, all of them Armenian, also knew Ovsepyan through family and friends back in Armenia, which added to the trust factor, Topadzhikyan said.

Efforts to reach Forest Lawn representatives on Sunday were unsuccessful. Ovsepyan's arrest could not have happened without the seamless cooperation of law enforcement agencies at the local, federal and international level, Topadzhikyan said.

"This sends a message that if you commit a crime in one jurisdiction, you can't just flee somewhere else and hope to not get caught," he said.

"You can run, but you can't hide."

Copyright © 2019, Burbank Leader
EDITION: California | U.S. & World