SAN DIEGO (CNS) - Authorities asked the public Thursday for help in finding three former Southern California men who allegedly took part in a complex San Diego-based fraud ring that claimed more than $27 million in fraudulent tax refunds.
Last week, 55 people were charged with conspiracy, mail and wire fraud, money laundering and aggravated identity theft in the case at the end of a two-year investigation. Twenty-two of them were taken into custody last Thursday in San Diego, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Maryland, prosecutors said.
Among the suspects remaining at large this week were 34-year-old Armenian citizen Hovhannes Harutyunyan, whose last known address was in Burbank; and former Los Angeles residents Yermek Dossymbekov, 23, and Alisher Omarov, 25, according to the FBI.
Four federal grand-jury indictments in the case outline alleged theft of more than 3,500 identities used to claim Internal Revenue Service refunds, of which the agency wound up paying out more than $7 million.
The scheme involved foreign nationals from former Soviet-bloc countries who allegedly traveled to the U.S. under visas and then became involved in conspiracies to defraud the U.S. government and federally insured banks.
The charges emanate from more than 2,000 fraudulent tax filings, according to the FBI. The co-conspirators are accused of submitting two types of bogus returns -- ones that claimed refunds from fabricated gambling winnings and losses, and others based on phony wages and withholdings.
The scheme involved the participation of about two dozen foreign nationals from such countries as Russia, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan visiting San Diego on visas.
Instead of studying or working while in the United States, the perpetrators served primarily as foot soldiers for criminal organizations operating in Los Angeles, prosecutors allege.
While in San Diego, the foreign nationals rented apartments, opened post-office boxes and bank accounts at San Diego branches of Bank of America and Wells Fargo, and collected fraudulent tax refunds via refund checks and direct deposits from the U.S. Treasury.
The conspirators employed sophisticated methods to cover their tracks, the indictment alleges. For instance, they took steps to disguise their Internet protocol addresses when filing tax returns electronically; used codes when communicating; referred to each other only by nicknames, such as "Anaconda"; and utilized prepaid cell phones changed on a regular basis, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
A second indictment charges three people with filing more than 400 false returns bearing stolen identities, thereby claiming more than $3 million in fraudulent refunds. A third charges eight people and describes an elaborate ruse in which defendants obtained bank account and other personal information about wealthy Wells Fargo customers and then sent impostors to branches to withdraw large sums of money.
A fourth indictment in the case charges 18 defendants with a scheme to defraud Bank of America of more than $600,000 by writing bad checks.
Anyone with information concerning the whereabouts of the fugitive suspects was asked to call the FBI at (858) 320-1800.