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Culminating a two-year investigation by federal authorities in San Diego and Los Angeles, four federal indictments accusing 55 people of participating in financial schemes were unsealed today (Sept. 26). Officials have arrested 22 defendants, but 33 are still at large and many are possibly out of the country.

The largest indictment charges 29 people with filing around 2,000 bogus tax returns, and seeking $17 million in undeserved refunds. This caper allegedly involved scores of San Diego-based nationals from Russia, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, visiting the city on short-term visas. One of the defendants, Yvonne Mihailescu, used her position as an employee of Wells Fargo Bank to open accounts in which the fraudulent refunds were stashed. The defendants rented apartments in San Diego and elsewhere, and opened bank accounts at Wells Fargo and Bank of America branches.

In another indictment, defendants got bank account and personal information about wealthy Wells Fargo customers and sent impostors to branches to withdraw large sums of money.

The alleged scam in the major indictment was led by Arthur Grigorian, Ernest Soloian, and Hovahannes Harutyunyan. The first two are from Glendale and the last from Van Nuys.

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jnojr Sept. 26, 2013 @ 1:13 p.m.

Why does the US Government make it so easy to collect "free money"?

A "refund" should be for one reason, and one reason only... someone (who can be identified and verified) paid too much in. But we just have to have a system where millions of takers can pay in a few hundred and then be entitled to thousands in various credits.

We need tax reform: 1) Everyone pays something; and 2) Nobody can ever possibly get a 'refund' or more than they paid in.


Don Bauder Sept. 26, 2013 @ 1:17 p.m.

jnojr: The biggest hole in our tax system is the one exploited by corporations and the superrich: the stashing of funds in offshore tax havens. Progress is being made very slowly, because those benefitting from these loopholes have clout in Congress. Best, Don Bauder


Visduh Sept. 26, 2013 @ 8:38 p.m.

I'm afraid that jnojr misses the point here. These rip-offs had nothing to do with people who paid or didn't pay into the system. They created phony tax returns that showed overpayments due to either too much withholding or excess estimated payments, and then asked for refunds. That the IRS accepted those returns and treated them as legitimate and then sent along the refunds is a reflection on the IRS. I'd guess that the tax laws and rules had little to do with out-and-out fraud. What we saw here was a scam as old as banking and lax verification of claims prior to issuance of refunds. The actual tax laws probably had little or nothing to do with this sort of scam.


Don Bauder Sept. 27, 2013 @ 9:47 a.m.

Visduh: You make a good point that the IRS missed the phony tax returns. That doesn't excuse the scam, of course. Best, Don Bauder


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