Hampstead Road is a quiet, residential street in an affluent section of La Cañada Flintridge. Just off busy Chevy Chase Drive, it is home to large, gated estates. As such, it's one of the city's less-traveled roads.
Last Thursday, the calm serenity of the street was disrupted when law enforcement agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives served a North Carolina search warrant on a house in the 4000 block of Hampstead Road, according to the Charlotte, North Carolina, District Attorney's office, which issued the warrant after federal grand jury indicted eight North Carolina men and one La Cañada Flintridge man.
"It's a very quiet, residential street. Except for the residents, there's not that much traffic. You don't expect to see an ATF raid," said another resident of the 4000 block of Hampstead Road, who asked not to be named on the advice of his attorney. "It's pretty intimidating when you have large numbers of men running around in black. It's pretty frightening. This took us all by surprise."
La Cañadan Hovannes Aram Blikian, 27, was the last of nine to be arrested on suspicion of possession with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of cocaine and 500 grams or more of methamphetamine, both classified as Schedule II drugs, and 500 grams or more of a drug known as ecstasy, a Schedule I drug. The rest of the men arrested in connection with the indictment reside in North Carolina. A federal seal on the indictment was lifted after Blikian's arrest.
According to ATF and the Charlotte DA's office, the men allegedly conspired to distribute the drugs at various locations within western North Carolina over an almost three-year period.
According to an ATF statement, 36 firearms, 9 kilograms of cocaine and $100,000 was taken from the Hampstead Road residence.
The resident of the neighboring house said he noticed a group of men dressed as members of a public works crew arrive on the street close to 6 a.m. He didn't think anything of it; with the recent water damage public works crews had been at the site the day before. After conversing with the men, the resident said he noticed them entering the property at 4020 Hampstead Road just as he noticed a black-and-white, marked sheriff's vehicle parked with its lights on down the street, something he thought was odd for the quiet street.
When he left his house half an hour later, he said he saw another marked sheriff's vehicle parked at the nearby intersection of Chevy Chase Drive and Flintridge Avenue. While at his office, he said he received a call from a neighbor whose wife said she had been advised to stay away from her windows by law enforcement officials.
At least two people were led away from the house in handcuffs, the suspect's neighbor said. Information about a second person being arrested was unavailable.
"Armed drug dealers leave a trail of violence, and ATF aggressively pursues these violent offenders. These arrests will have a significant, positive effect on our community," ATF Special Agent in Charge John Torres said in a prepared statement.
According to the statement, ATF officials from the Los Angeles Field Division said their agents served the search warrant, which originated in the ATF Charlotte Field Division office, on Blikian in the early morning hours of Feb. 24. They said members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department assisted.
The ATF statement said the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation began the investigation in September 2004. It continues in the Los Angeles area.
If convicted, Blikian faces a maximum of up to life imprisonment and a $2 million fine. He is being held in federal custody.
Other residents of the suspect's house could not be reached for comment.