Former Glendale bank manager admits to aiding money laundering scam

A former branch manager for a Wells Fargo in Glendale said he helped scammers access fraudulent bank accounts as part of a $14-million money laundering scheme.
(Ben Margot / Associated Press)

The former manager of a Wells Fargo branch in Glendale pleaded guilty on Monday to using his position to aid a $14-million money laundering scam involving tax refunds.

Hakop Zakaryan, 34, pleaded guilty to one count of bank fraud and faces up to 30 years in prison for his participation in the scheme.

According to a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Zakaryan would be paid thousands of dollars in cash to unfreeze fraudulent bank accounts that were created using fake identities. He would unfreeze them by providing the bank’s loss prevention department with false information.

In one instance that took place in July 2014, Zakaryan was paid about $3,000 to unfreeze an account that held $29,453, which allowed the scammers to withdraw those funds, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

The scam spanned several years and involved hundreds of bogus bank accounts opened using stolen identities and fabricated passports for the Republic of Armenia. Authorities said money from IRS refunds that were issued using fake tax returns would then be placed into the accounts.

About 7,000 of the fraudulent tax returns seeking roughly $38 million in refunds were submitted to the Internal Revenue Service. The agency ended up issuing $14 million in refunds.

Authorities said it’s the same scam that involved a Glendale attorney, Arthur Charchian, who pleaded guilty in December for his role.

Charchian would help launder the money by placing the ill-gotten funds in accounts meant for his clients, authorities said at the time. He would then issue outgoing checks to the scammers, minus a 10% cut.

This was done more than a dozen times, federal officials said.

Zakaryan is scheduled to be sentenced on Nov. 18.