LOS ANGELES (CNS)–A former employee of the Armenian consulate in Los Angeles pleaded guilty to his role in a scheme to sell documents to illegal immigrants, allowing them to avoid deportation, federal authorities announced today.
Hakop Hovanesyan, 54, faces up to five years in prison when he is sentenced Jan. 24 in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Hovanesyan, who worked at the Armenian consulate until May 2007, was one of five defendants charged in July 2009 at the end of a two-year investigation, according to ICE said.
The other defendants include a former Armenian Consul in Los Angeles and a Beverly Hills immigration attorney.
The probe focused on the sale of “letters of refusal,’ which are issued by embassies and consulates and essentially block a person’s deportation.
According to the charges in the criminal complaints, the five defendants allegedly sold letters of refusal from the Armenian consulate for as much as $37,000 each.
According to ICE, the documents prevented the removal of Armenian nationals to Armenia.
Some of those who purchased the letters were facing deportation after convictions in the United States of felony charges, according to ICE.
“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,’ said Claude Arnold, special agent in charge for ICE in Los Angeles.
“We will move aggressively to prevent unscrupulous opportunists from profiting from schemes that undermine public safety and compromise the integrity of our nation’s immigration system,’ he said.
The remaining four defendants, who are all awaiting trial, are:
- Norair Ghalumian, 52, of Burbank, the Armenian Consul in Los Angeles from 1999 through 2003;
- Margarita Mkrtchyan, 42, of Glendale, an immigration attorney;
- Oganes Nardos, 37, of Valencia, a substance abuse counselor; and
- Elvis Madatyan, 47, of Glendale.
Hovanesyan entered his guilty plea Monday before U.S. District Judge Andrew J. Guilford.