NEW YORK — A man residing in Glendale, California, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to unlawfully bring in aliens and visa fraud for his role in a multi-year visa fraud scheme that brought Armenian citizens into the United States for profit.
Hrachya Atoyan, 32, pleaded guilty before U.S. Magistrate Judge Sanket J. Bulsara in the Eastern District of New York. Sentencing is scheduled for Feb. 20, 2020, before U.S. District Judge Margo K. Brodie. According to the indictment, Atoyan allegedly participated in a transnational network of co-conspirators who engaged in a widespread visa fraud scheme to bring Armenian citizens into the United States by fraudulently claiming to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) that the Armenians were members of performance groups, and thus qualified for P-3 “Culturally Unique Artist” visas.
“Exploiting the P-3 non-immigrant visa classification system for culturally unique artist and entertainers makes a mockery out of the legitimate performers for whom that visa was intended,” said Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “We will work hand in hand with our law enforcement partners to rid the system of fraudsters, like Mr. Atoyan and his co-conspirators, who seek to take advantage of and profit from our immigration system.”
“Atoyan’s guilty plea brings down the curtain on an elaborate visa fraud scheme to falsely portray applicants as artists and entertainers in order to circumvent our country’s P-3 visa program,” said U.S. Attorney Richard P. Donoghue of the Eastern District of New York.
“The Diplomatic Security Service builds strong teams overseas and in the United States to protect the integrity of all U.S. visas and travel documents – especially those, like the P-3 visa, which allow for entertainers to visit the United States to perform in culturally unique events and deepen our understanding of different cultures,” said Todd J. Brown, Director of the Diplomatic Security Service. “DSS values our partnership with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and other law enforcement agencies around the world to prevent and jointly combat U.S. passport and visa fraud. Deterring, detecting, and investigating U.S. passport and visa fraud is essential to safeguarding our national security.”
“The elaborate scheme devised in this case demonstrates just how far criminals will go to cheat our already generous immigration system,” said U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Acting Director Ken Cuccinelli. “This transnational criminal conspiracy was taken down thanks to the hard work of officers with USCIS’ Fraud Detection and National Security directorate and our valued law enforcement partners. Thank you for bringing these perpetrators to justice.”
The P-3 nonimmigrant visa classification allows foreign nationals to temporarily travel to the United States to perform, teach or coach as artists or entertainers, under a program that is culturally unique. A U.S. employer or sponsoring organization is required to submit a USCIS Form I-129 Petition for a Non-Immigrant Worker, along with supporting documentation, attesting that the performances in the United States are culturally unique.
In February 2018, Stella Boyadjian of Rego Park, New York; Atoyan; and Diana Grigoryan, aka “Dina Akopovna,” 42, of the Republic of Armenia were charged in a 15-count indictment with visa fraud and with conspiracy to: defraud the United States, commit visa fraud, and illegally bring aliens into the United States. Boyadjian and Grigoryan were also charged with related money laundering charges, and Boyadjian was charged with aggravated identity theft. Boyadjian previously pleaded guilty on March 4, 2019 in the Eastern District of New York.
As alleged in the indictment, Boyadjian ran a non-profit organization called Big Apple Music Awards Foundation (BAMA) based in Rego Park, New York. Boyadjian used the Big Apple Music Awards Foundation as well as formal and informal music industry contacts in the United States and Armenia to perpetuate the scheme. Atoyan, Boyadjian, and others solicited Armenian citizens who wanted to come to the United States and charged them between $3,000 and $10,000 to be included on the Form I-129 Petitions. Boyadjian and other associates in Armenia then acquired fraudulent performer certificates and organized staged photo sessions where the aliens wore traditional Armenian folk outfits to make it appear as though they were traditional Armenian performers. After being trained how to defeat U.S. visa interviews, the individual aliens presented these certificates and photos to U.S. consular officers during their visa interviews. Once the Armenians entered the United States, some would pay Boyadjian and her associates additional money to be included in another fraudulent petition asking for P-3 visa extensions. As alleged in the indictment, Atoyan himself came to the United States on a P-3 visa obtained in connection with a Form I-129 submitted by BAMA.
This case was a joint investigation by the DSS’s Criminal Fraud Investigations and Overseas Criminal Investigations Division with assistance from the USCIS Fraud Detection and National Security, Center Fraud Detection Operations – Vermont. Trial Attorney Sasha N. Rutizer of the Criminal Division’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney David Gopstein of the Eastern District of New York are prosecuting the case.