FREE e-Newsletter
Important News - Hot Topics
Get them Now!
Richard Valdemar

Richard Valdemar

Sgt. Richard Valdemar retired from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department after spending most of his 33 years on the job combating gangs.

Security Policy and the Cloud

Ask The Expert

Mark Rivera

FBI-CJIS Security Policy Compliance Officer

Mark Rivera, Customer Retention Manager and CJIS Security Compliance Officer with Vigilant Solutions, served for sixteen years with the Maryland State Police, retiring at the rank of First Sergeant with thirteen of those years at the supervisory and command level. He holds a Master of Science Degree in Management from The Johns Hopkins University and Secret clearance through the FBI, Baltimore.

Gangs

Roots of the Armenian Power Gang

The Armenian Power gang came into the spotlight with a massive federal sweep in mid-February.

March 01, 2011  |  by Richard Valdemar - Also by this author

In America, few criminal gangs can claim any real cultural, religious, or political roots to their native culture. The Armenian Power gang may be an exception to the rule.

The Armenian people have a culture rich in intellectual and religious history. They claim to be the descendants of Noah because his great ark landed in the Ararat Mountain Range, according to the Jewish and Christian scriptures. This land became known as Armenia. Armenians were also known as the Hai people or Haik. They warred against the ancient Assyrian armies from the Old Testament times.

The Armenians also claim to be the first Christian nation. Before Emperor Constantine's Edict of Milan in AD 313 proclaimed tolerance for the new Christian religion, Jesus' Apostles Thaddeus and Bartholomew converted the Armenian King Tiridates the Great to Christianity. Surrounded by powerful pagan cultures, Tiridates ordered all his subjects to Christian conversion and baptism in AD 301. And it seems that the Armenian people have been at war ever since.

In AD 451, they repulsed the invasion of Persian King Yazdegerd II, who tried to convert the nation of Zordaster. This was followed by Islamic Persian and Arabian invasions. They also fought the Greeks, Turks, and Mongol hordes.

During the Christian Crusades, Armenians assisted the Crusaders and further alienated their Muslim neighbor nations. In the 20th century, the Great Turkish Ottoman Empire attempted to illuminate the Christian Nations of Serbia, Montenegro, Bulgaria, Greece, and Armenia in the Balkan Wars of 1912.

However, the greatest Armenian tragedy occurred between 1914 and 1922 during the Great Genocide. The Armenian people were disarmed. Their intelligentsia was systematically murdered, and (by even a low Turkish estimation) over 2 million Armenians were slaughtered. The remainder were stripped of their property, forced into exile, and marched into the Syrian Desert to die. This Armenian Genocide was joined later by the ruthless Russian Bolshevik purges.

It should also be noted that several times in Armenia's tragic history their Christian allies and the rest of the civilized world failed to come to their aid.

All those years of oppression and invasion and subjugation under one tyrant after another spawned among the Armenians a culture that prized operating covertly, a culture adept at outsmarting the invaders and forming secret alliances with some of their enemies in order to insure the survival of the Armenian people. This meant that the Armenians often operated in the black market among their Muslim, Christian, and Godless Communist enemies. This could also be why this underground covert trading often involved weapons trafficking.

So what does this trip on the "way back" machine mean to me as a law enforcement officer today? Flash forward to Jan. 27, 1973, when Los Angeles Turkish Counsel General, Mehmet Baydar, and his Deputy, Bahadir Demir, are murdered in a Santa Barbara hotel by Gourgen Yanikian. This is the first of a decades-long chain of attacks, bombings, and assassinations perpetrated by an organization calling itself Justice Commandos Against Armenian Genocide (JCAG).

These attacks have occurred in Vienna, Austria; Paris, France; Zurich, Switzerland; Istanbul, Turkey; Rome, Italy; Madrid, Spain; and The Hague in the Netherlands.  But more pertinent to you, a car bombing occurred in 1980 at the United Nations Plaza in New York. In Los Angeles, a Turkish travel agency was bombed.

In June 1981, a bomb exploded at the Orange County Convention Center in Anaheim, Calif., and in November of that year the Beverly Hills Turkish Consulate was bombed.  Turkish Consul General Kemal Arikan was shot to death at a stop light in Los Angeles on Jan. 28, 1982. New England's honorary Turkish Consul General Orhan Gunduz was shot in Somerville, Mass., in May of 1982.

In 1982, the JCAG hit Lisbon, Portugal, in June; Ottawa, Canada, in August; Bulgaria in September; and Belgrade, Yugoslavia, in March of 1983. These attacks continue to this day.

You may be tempted to ask, are these mentioned attacks the acts of politically motivated international terrorists?

The answer is yes and no. In the Armenian underground community, the lines between criminal gangs, organized crime groups, and terrorists (or vigilantes) are not always clear. There's generally a fierce pride and desire to bring their people's persecution and genocide to the world's attention, and to punish the perpetrators of the horrific war crimes committed against them. Even the organized crime groups and criminal gangs are influenced by this history.

In 1994, a federal task force in Los Angeles covertly monitored meetings ordered by the Mexican Mafia leadership. These meetings involved representatives appointed from hundreds of street gangs under an alliance called Sur (Spanish for south) or Sureño (Spanish for southerner). This Sur or Sur13 alliance began in prison for Latino gangs loyal to the Mexican Mafia and opposed to Norteños (Spanish for northerners) who were loyal to the Nuestra Familia prison gang.

From 1992 to 1993, Mexican Mafia member Peter "Sana" Ojeda began calling for meetings in El Salvador Park in Orange County, Calif. Los Angeles Mexican Mafia members soon required meetings for Los Angeles gangs. Since these meetings would inevitably include members from rival gangs, conditions to attend mandated no drinking or drug use and that those attendees not be armed.

Armenian Power (AP-13) gang members, although not Latinos, were part of the Sureño alliance and attended these meetings. At one such meeting in a Los Angeles park, an AP-13 gang member was obviously drunk. Dressed like a traditional Mexican American cholo, he had a large pistol tucked into the front of his oversized khakis. Ernest "Chuco" Castro confronted this AP-13 member for ignoring the meeting regulations. When the AP member bristled at the scolding, "Chuco" backhanded him and simultaneously plucked the weapon from his waistband. We would later recover that weapon in a search warrant. It was a fully loaded MAC-11 submachine gun.

In Los Angeles, the Armenian Power street gang was linked not only to the Sureño alliance and the Mexican Mafia prison gang, but also to their elders in the Armenian organized crime groups. Their criminal activity was centered around the cities of Glendale, Burbank, and Hollywood. The AP also had alliances with the Italian and Russian organized crime groups. They often victimized members of their own community, and supported the radical politically motivated acts of groups such as the JCAG. This was much like the Aryan Brotherhood prison gang's support for Sinn Fein, the Irish Republican Army's terrorist cell.

Mexican Mafia defector Gerald "Bouncer" Fernandez, who operated in the San Fernando Valley, bragged to me that his whole crew was made up of Armenians. He said that his stepfather was Armenian and had introduced Bouncer to the AP. He said that most of them also had organized crime connections. This organized crime access meant that his crew became involved in more sophisticated crimes such as identity theft, extortion, heavy weapons trafficking, and black and gray market trafficking in stolen vehicles.

On Feb. 16, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Los Angeles announced that federal indictments were filed against the Armenian Power Transnational Organized Crime Group. A total of 99 defendants were charged with a wide range of crimes including kidnapping, extortion, bank fraud, and narcotics trafficking. Seventy were charged under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) statutes. In one scam alone, more than $2 million was stolen by AP in the installation of sophisticated credit card "skimming" devices at 99 Cent Only Stores. A second indictment charged 20 defendants in Orange County.   

The Los Angeles Eurasian Organized Crime Task Force that included federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies called this "Operation Power Outage." Dozens of additional defendants were being sought in Miami and Denver. During this two-year investigation, AP was found to have ties to Russian and African American gangs also.

This indictment may also be important to you if you work custody or in a state or federal prison, because the AP is flexing its muscles there. With its ties to international drug and weapons traffickers, and organized crime groups around the world, the AP organization is forming power groups or security threat groups in the nation's jails and prisons. Some of the defendants in this case were found in possession of contraband cell phones in custody continuing their criminal business.

Related:

Russian Organized Crime: The Foundation for Trafficking

Feds Arrest 81 Armenian Power Gang Members In Three-City Sweep


Get Your FREE Trial Issue and Win a Gift! Subscribe Today!
Yes! Please rush me my FREE TRIAL ISSUE of POLICE magazine and FREE Officer Survival Guide with tips and tactics to help me safely get out of 10 different situations.

Just fill in the form to the right and click the button to receive your FREE Trial Issue.

If POLICE does not satisfy you, just write "cancel" on the invoice and send it back. You'll pay nothing, and the FREE issue is yours to keep. If you enjoy POLICE, pay only $25 for a full one-year subscription (12 issues in all). Enjoy a savings of nearly 60% off the cover price!

Offer valid in US only. Outside U.S., click here.
It's easy! Just fill in the form below and click the red button to receive your FREE Trial Issue.
First Name:
Last Name:
Rank:
Agency:
Address:
City:
State:
  
Zip Code:
 
Country:
We respect your privacy. Please let us know if the address provided is your home, as your RANK / AGENCY will not be included on the mailing label.
E-mail Address:

Police Magazine