FBI officials are searching for three men with ties to San Diego in connection with an international organized tax and bank fraud ring that allegedly stole over 3,500 identities and claimed more than $27 million in fraudulent IRS tax refunds.
Authorities announced Thursday that they were seeking the public’s help in locating 23-year-old Yermek Dossymbekov, 25-year-old Alisher Omarov, and 34-year-old Hovhannes Harutyunyan, who is also known to go by Hovo, Anaconda, Snake, Cobra, and Oz.
The three men were said to be part of an organized fraud ring which was taken down in a nationwide operation that occurred on Sept. 26 in San Diego, New York, Baltimore, and Las Vegas.
An investigation into the fraud ring began in 2011 when FBI authorities became aware of a group of foreign nationals from former Soviet bloc countries who traveled to the U.S. on visas before getting involved in schemes to defraud the government and banks.
Authorities said the fraud ring’s operation was complex and involved millions of dollars in stolen money.
Dossymbekov, Omarov, and Harutyunyan are reportedly part of two dozen suspects within the operation who came to San Diego on visas meant for work, study, or travel for a short period of time. Instead, FBI officials said, once in San Diego the suspects worked as foot soldiers for criminal operations out of Los Angeles.
While in San Diego, the group reportedly rented apartments and opened post office boxes and bank accounts at Wells Fargo and Bank of America.
Authorities said the group out of San Diego then fraudulently collected tax refunds through the receipt of refund checks and direct deposits from the U.S. Treasury.
In all, the IRS paid out $7 million of the $27 million the fraud ring claimed in fraudulent tax refunds.
In another series of crimes, led by Harutyunyan, the group obtained bank information of wealthy Wells Fargo customers and then sent impostors with altered appearances to the bank to collect large sums of money, FBI officials said.
During these crimes, the group attempted to trick the bank out of over $3 million and ultimately was successful in obtaining nearly $600,000.
The fraud ring was also able to steal over $600,000 from Bank of America by writing bad checks.
The suspects went to great lengths to hide their operation, including masking their IP addresses when filing tax returns electronically, using nicknames, and even developing a code language, according to court documents.
It’s believed that some of the group’s crimes were so brazen in part because the fraud ring’s leaders knew their co-conspirators would only be in the U.S. for a short time and indeed many of the suspects have since returned to their country, according to authorities.
In all, 55 people have been charged in four federal grand jury indictments for various crimes allegedly committed by the fraud ring.
As of Oct. 3, 31 of the suspects were in custody.
FBI officials hoped the public would be able to provide some information regarding the whereabouts of Dossymbekov and Omarov, both of whom were last known to be living in Los Angeles, and Harutyunyan, whose last known residence was in Burbank.
Anyone with information about the three fugitives was asked to contact the FBI at (858) 320-1800.