San Diego, California - United States Attorney Laura E. Duffy announced that Ara Keshishyan pleaded guilty to leading and organizing a 14-defendant conspiracy to steal more than $1 million from Citibank using cash advance kiosks in a dozen casinos from Southern California to Las Vegas.

Keshishyan presided over a conspiracy to exploit a gap in Citibank’s electronic transaction security protocols in order to overdraw more than 20 Citibank accounts by tens of thousands of dollars each. The scheme worked as follows: Keshishyan recruited conspirators to open Citibank checking accounts that Keshishyan would fund with “seed” money that would form the basis for future fraudulent withdrawals. Keshishyan and his various conspirators then traveled to casinos in Southern California and Nevada, including the Morongo, Pechanga, San Manuel, Agua Caliente, Chukchansi, and Spa Resort casinos in California; the Tropicana, Wynn, Bicycle, and Whiskey Pete’s casinos in Las Vegas, Nevada; and Harrah’s in Laughlin, Nevada. Once inside the casino, Keshishyan instructed the conspirator how to conduct identical, fraudulent withdrawals at cash advance kiosks within a short time window in order to circumvent Citibank security protocols. Keshishyan’s technique exploited a glitch that allowed his conspirators to withdraw several times the amount of seed money deposited into the accounts. In one case, Keshishyan and one of the co-conspirators were able to withdraw 10 times the amount of money deposited into one of the accounts opened in furtherance of the fraud. The conspirators were careful to keep their deposits and withdrawals under $10,000 (typically between $9,000 and $10,000) in order to avoid federal transaction reporting requirements.

As part of his guilty plea today, Keshishyan admitted that, using these methods, he and his co-conspirators stole more than $1 million from Citibank between June 2009 and January 2010. Keshishyan further admitted that, as the organizer of the conspiracy, he personally took a cut of every fraudulent withdrawal that he directed.

United States Attorney Duffy said, “This is an example of a class of cyber-fraud that burdens our financial system and results in a higher cost of doing business for American consumers. Along with our agency partners, my office is committed to detecting and prosecuting these schemes in whatever form they take.”

FBI Special Agent in Charge Daphne Hearn commented, “While advancements in technology have created a world of accessibility to users and a convenience for consumers, they have also left room for cyber criminals to exploit even the smallest of loopholes. The FBI will continue to use our investigative expertise in cyber and financial crimes to pursue those who illegally abuse our financial system for their own personal gain.”

Keshishyan is the 13th defendant to plead guilty in the case. The lone remaining charged defendant is a fugitive. Several of Keshishyan’s codefendants have already been sentenced to prison time and have been ordered to pay restitution for their roles in the scheme. Keshishyan is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Janis L. Sammartino on September 12, 2014, at 9:00 a.m. His guilty plea is subject to acceptance by Judge Sammartino.

Defendants

1. Ara Keshishyan
Age: 31
Fillmore, California

- Sentencing hearing set for September 12, 2014, before Judge Sammartino.

2. Ara Harutyunyan
Age: 32
Glendale, California

- Sentence: imprisonment for 12 months and one day; supervised release for three years; restitution of $307,161

3. Artur Harutyunyan
Age: 26
Glendale, California

- Sentence: imprisonment for 12 months and one day; supervised release for three years; restitution of $307,161

4. Vahe Asatrian
Age: 31
North Hollywood, California

- Sentence: imprisonment for 12 months; supervised release for three years; restitution of $307,161

5. Sarkis Mooshidian
Age: 39
Burbank, California

- Sentence: probation for five years; restitution of $66,500

6. Levon Karamyan
Age: 60
Fugitive

- The charges and allegations contained in the Indictment are merely accusations, and this defendant is considered innocent unless and until proven guilty.

7. Migran Yamalyan
Age: 32
Winnetka, California

- Sentencing hearing set for June 20, 2014, before Judge Sammartino

8. Seryozha Harutyunyan
Age: 61
Glendale, California

- Sentence: imprisonment for six months; supervised release for three years; restitution of $106,370

9. Lianna Avetisyan
Age: 26
North Hollywood, California

- Sentencing hearing set for August 22, 2014, before Judge Sammartino

10. Ashot Oganisyan
Age: 32
Mission Hills, California

- Sentencing hearing set for June 27, 2014, before Judge Sammartino.

11. Ovsep Sarafyan
Age: 35
North Hollywood, California

- Sentence: imprisonment for one month; home detention for seven months; supervised release for three years; restitution of $85,924

12. Daniel J. Thomas
Age: 58
Huntington Beach, California

- Sentence: probation for five years; restitution of $65,260

13. Hilda Hakverdyan
Age: 55
Glendale, California

- Sentence: probation for five years; restitution of $105,960

14. Asatur Asatryan
Age: 35
Pasadena, California

- Sentencing hearing set for August 15, 2014, before Judge Sammartino

Summary of Charges

Conspiracy to commit bank fraud—Title 18, U.S.C., Section 371 (all defendants)

Maximum penalty: five years’ imprisonment and $250,000 fine