Five tri-city residents plead not guilty in bank fraud scheme

Five residents from the Glendale-Burbank-Pasadena area pleaded not guilty Monday to federal charges that they used cash advance kiosks in casinos to steal more than $1 million from Citibank, officials said.

Pasadena resident Asatur Asatryan, 33, and Glendale residents Ara Harutyunyan, 30, Artur Harutyunyan, 24, Seryozha Harutyuyan, 59, and Hilda Hakverdyan, 53, were among 14 defendants indicted on charges stemming from their alleged involvement in a bank fraud scheme dubbed “Gone in 60 Seconds,” according to the U.S. District Attorney’s office in San Diego.

The alleged mastermind of the scheme, Ara Keshishyan, 29, of Fillmore, recruited conspirators to open Citibank accounts in their names, according to the indictment, which was unsealed in U.S. District Court on Friday.

Keshishyan allegedly supplied his co-defendants with seed money — between $9,000 and $10,000 each — to deposit in their bank accounts, according to the indictment.

Depositing more than $10,000 in cash at a time triggers federal banking reporting requirements for transactions.

Once the money was deposited, the co-defendants visited casinos in Southern California and Nevada and used their Citibank cards to withdraw cash from Global Cash Access kiosks inside, according to the indictment.

They allegedly exploited a loophole in Citibank’s account security procedures “which required multiple withdrawals all within 60 seconds,” according to a statement from the U.S. District Attorney’s office.

The procedure treated “identical, near-simultaneous withdrawals as duplicates of a single withdrawal” from a checking account, according to the indictment, allegedly allowing them to withdraw more money than the account contained.

Keshishyan allegedly gave his co-defendants a cut of the fraudulent proceeds for their participation in the scheme, which began May 2009 and ended in January 2010, according to the indictment.

Asatryan and the Glendale co-defendants were charged with conspiracy to commit bank fraud and conspiracy to illegally structure transactions to avoid reporting requirements. They face up to five years in prison and $250,000 fines, according to the U.S. District Attorney’s Office.

Burbank resident Sarkis Mooshidian, 37, also pleaded not guilty on Friday to the same charges, according to court documents. He was released from custody after posting a $20,000 bond and was ordered to surrender his passport.

The indictment alleges that in 2009, Mooshidian withdrew $9,850 five times, and $9,350 another five times, from two Citibank accounts using the cash advance kiosk at the Wynn Casino in Las Vegas.

The defendants are due back in court in U.S. District Court in San Diego next month.

Follow Veronica Rocha on Google+ and Twitter @VeronicaRochaLA.

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