A SoCal man was sentenced to prison for stealing over $1.7 million from major banks in a check fraud scheme.
Ara Malkhasyan, 52, of Winnetka, was sentenced to 6 years and nine months in prison after pleading guilty in April 2021 to one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft.
Malkhasyan was the “ringleader and mastermind of a check-kiting scheme” that also involved his wife, brother-in-law and other family members, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
From May 2015 to Sept. 2017, Malkhasyan and his accomplices obtained stolen Armenian passports and altered the documents to include photos of themselves.
They used the fraudulent documents to obtain other identity documents in order to open bank accounts.
Once secured, Malkhasyan and his co-conspirators wrote bad checks to other fraudulently obtained bank accounts while exploiting bank rules that allowed them to transfer money from one account to another.
They would then immediately withdraw funds at ATMs in Las Vegas casinos and several other locations before the checks bounced.
By repeating this method, the suspects allegedly stole $1,304,307 from Bank of America, authorities said.
In a separate scheme from April 2017 to May 2019, Malkhasyan his brother-in-law, Smbat Khechumyan, 41, from North Hollywood, conducted a similar forged check scheme.
Using stolen Armenian passports and counterfeit Ukrainian and Belarusian passports, one suspect would open an account at Wells Fargo. They would deposit forged checks into the account and immediately withdraw the funds from ATMs at Las Vegas casinos.
They allegedly stole around $401,420 using this method, authorities said.
Smbat pleaded guilty in Oct. 2021 to one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft. He is serving a two-year prison sentence.
Malkhasyan’s wife, Sveta Khechumyan, 49, pleaded guilty in April 2021 to one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft. Her sentencing hearing is scheduled for Nov. 3.
In total, prosecutors have secured nine guilty pleas in this case.