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$80 Million Scheme The Focus Of FBI Raids

Jim Finnel

Fallen Cannabis Warrior & Ex News Moderator
Four people charged during FBI raids on Friday morning could be just a few of 700 people nationwide involved in a scheme to steal more than $80 million from credit card companies and banks, according to court records obtained by 9Wants to Know.

Law enforcement officers arrested four people Friday morning, all of whom are identified in court documents as from the former Soviet Union republics.

FBI agents also served search warrants at more than a dozen locations, including personal residences, auto dealerships and CannaMed, where people can apply to get medical marijuana. A medical marijuana business called Alternative Medicine of Southeast Denver (AMSD), which is in the same building as CannaMed, on Leetsdale Drive in Denver, was also raided after federal agents spotted marijuana plants.

"The search of these 15 locations was based on probable cause that thee addresses involved were involved in bank fraud and credit card fraud," said Jeff Dorschner, spokesperson with the U.S. Attorney's office.

Two of the four people who were charged in the bust appeared in court on Friday. Natallia Vishnevskaya, 26, and Nadezda Nikitina, 23, appeared in federal court on Friday afternoon. Both are charged with one count of bank fraud and one count of submitting a false and fraudulent application.

Susan Ghardashyan, 69, of Denver was also arrested Friday and is hospitalized. Seda Sahakyan, 77, of Denver was also charged and has a medical issue. She was issued a summons to appear.

The FBI says more arrests are expected.

According to court records, the four people were allegedly involved in what's described as a "bust out" scheme. In it, criminals use the name and credit line of a business to rack up purchases on credit cards. But they have no intention of paying for the purchases and the credit line goes into non-payment.

The alleged scheme exposed on Friday used "straw buyers," who, in this case, were originally from the former Soviet Union republics. Often they were young people on visas, recruited by the alleged criminal group to participate.

According to court records, the investigation identified 700 straw buyers who have made more than $80 million in purchases which are now losses for the financial institutions that issued the credit cards.

The court records show one way they would do this is to register businesses with the Colorado Secretary of State and then, within weeks, obtain a line of credit claiming years of high income from that business. It appears few if any of these were functional businesses.

The court records show they bought cars, electronics, home improvements, airplane tickets to Las Vegas, got cash advances on credit lines and had cosmetic surgery.

Investigators flagged several large purchases made on one of Ghardashyan's credit cards at Maaliki Motors (three purchases for a total of $20,300), Discount Tire ($1,000), The Center for Cosmetic Surgery in Golden ($4,437), and Global Construction ($12,400). These charges were all between February and April of this year. On a different credit card, she is alleged to have spent $10,000 at Maaliki and bought $2,700 worth of Nordstrom gift cards.

The banks involved included JP Morgan Chase Bank, Washington Mutual, Wells Fargo and Bank of America.

A half dozen of the 14 people listed in the affidavit have left the U.S.

After the initial morning raid, FBI agents returned to CannaMed in the afternoon and apparently seized patient records.

Charlie Cross, spokesman for CannaMed, said, "CannaMed has no connection whatsoever with the individuals that were the target of the [search] warrants."

FBI agents seized records out of Maaliki Motors in Aurora Friday morning. Neither the dealership's owners nor any of its employees were arrested. Owner Walid Maaliki tells 9Wants to Know FBI agents were looking for customer information, including copies of their driver's licenses and credit cards, which are maintained by the dealership.

Maaliki says the dealership was a victim of the fraud and suspects that several customers purchased as many as six cars from the dealership using the stolen or forged credit cards.

"We didn't do anything wrong. It's just that we have records and copies of all of the credit cards that were used, the people's identities and their pictures," Maaliki said.

The used auto dealership buys and sells cars ranging from Fords for $4,000 to Bentleys for $90,000. Maaliki, who's fond of higher quality cars, says he sells BMW, Lexus and mostly foreign cars.

The dealership was closed Friday morning as the investigation continued.

The FBI also raided AMSD on Friday morning after finding a little less than 100 marijuana plants. The FBI's primary focus was CannaMed, but entered AMSD after seeing the marijuana.

Because marijuana is not legal under federal law, the agents confiscated all the plants.

The two owners of AMSD tell 9NEWS the plants were worth tens of thousands of dollars and were used to treat more than 100 clients.

The seizure effectively shuts the business down.

"It is going to be very difficult for them to stay in business here today. They have hundreds of patients that they assist. You guys have seen them pulling into the parking lot one after another, after another this morning and those people are no longer going to be able to get medical marijuana here," Warren Cedson, an attorney for AMSD, said.

Colorado law allows for the use and sale of medical marijuana, but federal law does not. In this situation the federal agents were obligated to confiscate the marijuana.

Maaliki told 9NEWS before the arrests he hopes agents catch the customers who defrauded the credit card companies.

"I hope they arrest them if they're defrauding the banks. And the banks should go after them too," Maaliki said.

Dorschner says the search warrants are "part of an ongoing criminal investigation."

NewsHawk: User: 420 MAGAZINE ® - Medical Marijuana Publication & Social Networking
Source: 9NEWS
Author: Deborah Sherman
Copyright: 2009 KUSA-TV
Contact: 9NEWS.com | Colorado's Online News Leader | Contact Us
Website: 9NEWS.com | Colorado's Online News Leader | $80 million scheme the focus of FBI raids
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