Former Armenian Consulate worker pleads guilty

GLENDALE — A Glendale resident who worked for the Armenian Consulate in Los Angeles pleaded guilty Monday to a charge stemming from a fraud scheme aimed at selling letters to undocumented Armenian nationals to avoid deportation, officials said.

Glendale resident Hakop Hovanesyan, 54, pleaded guilty to one count of obstructing federal proceedings for his role in the scheme, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

He is expected to be sentenced Jan. 24 and faces a maximum five years in prison, according to the agency.

He and four other alleged accomplices — former Armenian consul Norair Ghalumian, 52, of Burbank; and Glendale residents Margarita Mkrtchyan, 41; Elvis Madatyan, 47; and Valencia resident Oganes Nardos, 36 — allegedly sold immigration letters to undocumented convicted felons, including murderers and rapists, that allowed them to stay in the United States and avoid deportation.

"The defendants in this case exploited their ties to the community and knowledge of the immigration system to help dangerous criminals, among others, avoid deportation," Claude Arnold, special agent in charge of ICE Homeland Security Investigations in Los Angeles, said in a statement.

The arrests capped a two-year investigation into the alleged fraud scheme, in which more than two dozen letters of refusal were issued. The letters, which are generally issued by consulates and embassies, state that a country will not grant a travel document to a specific person, according to the criminal complaint.

The letters block a person from being deported to a country. The five letters from the Armenian Consulate reportedly sold for upward of $37,000.

The group allegedly used contacts in the Armenian government to obtain the letters, which were sent to ICE to prevent deportation, according to criminal complaints.

The four other accomplices are still awaiting trial.

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