The local Armenian community braced against a public rush to judgment after authorities on Wednesday announced a major crackdown on Armenian organized crime that included 74 people arrested on fraud and racketeering charges.
The federal indictments, unveiled at Glendale police headquarters Wednesday, alleged that members of the gang Armenian Power engaged in a range of white collar crimes to defraud the public of $20 million.
In a city where people of Armenian descent make up roughly 40% of the population, news of the arrests raised fears of what seems to be the inevitable: a rush by a vocal few to reinforce stereotypes.
“There are a lot of hard-working people who have helped make this city what it is, and like any culture…you’re going to have the best and the worst in any specific place,” Glendale City Clerk Ardy Kassakhian said. “The best we can hope for is that people don’t use this opportunity to use this headline to divide this community.”
More than 800 law enforcement officials arrested 74 Armenian Power members and their alleged associates throughout Southern California, including Glendale and Burbank, during an early morning raid on Wednesday morning dubbed “Operation Power Outage,” said Andre Birotte Jr., U.S. attorney for the Central District of California.
As of mid-Wednesday, authorities were still searching for about 25 other people.
The range of crimes listed in the indictment included kidnapping, bank fraud, extortion, identity theft and drug trafficking.
While lauding the massive law enforcement effort, the scope of arrests was expected to reinforce lingering negative public stereotypes “that unfortunately gets perpetuated by a few people,” Glendale Mayor Ara Najarian said.
When similar crime-related stories break, he said, “there’s definitely the realization of ‘Here we go again.’”
Leonard Manoukian, co-chairman of the Armenian National Committee-Glendale Chapter, noted that the tendency of some people to seize on headlines to reinforce their bigotry “unfortunately, happens every time.”
But he contended more could be done socially to keep youth from considering gangs as an alternative.
“[Public relations] is a Band-Aid,” Manoukian said.
With more than 250 reputed members, Armenian Power’s reach extends into Glendale, Burbank, Van Nuys, West Hollywood, North Hollywood and Hollywood, according to the federal indictment.
Up to 20 members and associates were arrested in Glendale during the operation, Police Chief Ron De Pompa said.
If the community really wants to break local gangs beyond multi-agency task forces and high-profile busts, a commitment to social service programs for teens must be restored, said Ara Arzumanian, director AGBU Generation Next, which assists at-risk Southern California youth of Armenian descent by providing them with adult role models.
“South Glendale is prime real estate in terms of recruitment,” he said.
Most teens who stick with gangs come from broken homes or face other social pressures, so without after-school programs, there’s little to dissuade them from a life of crime, Arzumanian said.
“Now is the time…these arrests have been made, we need to get in these kids’ lives,” he said.
“If we don’t, we can expect this to happen again, and again and again.”
For additional news on the arrests, see A1 of the Los Angeles Times