Three women were arrested and charged in connection to a visa fraud and identity theft scheme that brought Armenian nationals into the United States claiming that they were folk performance groups, in return for thousands of dollars, the U.S. Department of Justice said in a news release Monday.
Hrachya Atoyan, 31, of Glendale, Stella Boyadjian, 48, of New York and Diana Grigoryan, 42, of Armenia, were all charged in a 15-count indictment of visa fraud and conspiracy to defraud the United States.
Boyadjian and Grigoryan were also charged with money laundering, and Boyadjian was charged with aggravated identity theft, the news release said.
Boyadjian pleaded guilty Monday to conspiracy to “unlawfully bring in aliens, visa fraud, and aggravated identity theft,” the news release said.
The suspects sought P-3 visas for “culturally unique artists,” which allows foreign nationals to temporarily travel to the U.S. to perform, teach or coach as artists or entertainers, under a program that is culturally unique, according to authorities.
The indictment alleged that Boyadjian used a New York-based nonprofit organization that she oversaw called Big Apple Music Awards Foundation, in the scheme.
The group got fake performer certificates for the migrants and had them pose in traditional Armenian folk outfits in photo shoots, authorities said.
The suspects charged the migrants up to $10,000 in return, according to the DOJ.
Authorities did not provide specific information on Atoyan and Grigoryan’s roles in the operation.
The U.S. Embassy in Yerevan said that the scheme was “troubling” and that it exploited Armenian cultural heritage.
“[P-3 is] a visa category often sought by legitimate Armenian artists, musicians, dancers, and other performers to travel to the United States to showcase important aspects of Armenia’s rich cultural heritage to the American people,” the embassy said in a statement to the media. “Regrettably, cases like this subject legitimate U.S.-Armenian cultural exchange opportunities to further scrutiny.”
Authorities did not provide information on how the case affected the migrants.