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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.

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.


Russian Organized Crime: The Foundation for Trafficking

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

Tags: Armenian Power, Gang Intelligence

Comments (19)

Displaying 1 - 19 of 19

SL @ 3/2/2011 8:22 AM

Armenians are a pain in the you know what! If you've ever delt with them as a law enforcement officer, then you know. They will not be told anything. They are never wrong, even if they break the law, and you are never right. They are simply some of the most obstinant people I've come into contact with. Which is often.

Brow Down Armenian Pride @ 10/11/2011 4:28 PM

Case of unsolved Armenian Mobster "Erick Volonski" and the
$ 300000 ATM Fraud (Skim) in Southern California solved!


me @ 3/22/2012 2:01 AM

That's because you dont know how to approach them. If you approach them like you know everything, they will treat you like you know nothing and they know everything. All about respect.

gog @ 11/2/2012 3:58 AM

hey sl if your really a cop and not afraid, come to the meetings that i have with the cheifs of police and sheriffs dept. but i think you are just a PUSSY cat. your wrong we dont think we know everything, WE KNOW EVERYTHING FOR SURE, THATS WHY WERE ARMENIAN AND YOU WILL NEVER BE.

Burning_Tigris @ 11/9/2012 7:36 PM

This article contains several flaws. For one thing, Armenian Power and Justice Commandos for the Armenian Genocide are in no way related apart from both being Armenian organizations. JCAG was a political "terrorist" group with a mission to assassinate Turkish diplomats who were involved in spreading anti-Armenian propaganda. JCAG may have conducted several violent and illegal acts, but their aims were political and not about gang territory, financial scams or drug distribution. AP is a common California street gang, albeit one that has evolved connections to more sophisticated organized crime rings. I believe that the author probably did his research online, and ended up citing an unreliable Turkish source. Turks like to lump all Armenian groups together as part of one evil conspiracy, and they try to paint the Armenians as ever-evolving criminals with intimately linked criminal organizations (you know, the type of people that "deserve" a genocide...) In fact, JCAG was a reactionary "terrorist" organization, it was founded by nationalist dissidents exiled from then-Soviet Armenia (possibly with the support of Western Intelligence) as a counterweight to the marxist original Armenian terrorist group known as the ASALA (Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia). Both these groups operated mainly in the Middle East and were therefore composed mainly of Diasporan Western Armenians (from Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, etc.), while AP was composed mainly of Eastern Armenian immigrants from the former Soviet bloc countries (from Armenia, Russia, Georgia, etc.)

Burning_Tigris @ 11/9/2012 7:37 PM

Also, many peoples have lived under brutal foreign occupations, not just the Armenians. Armenia having survived Persian, Roman, Byzantine, Arab, Seljuk, Mongol, Turkish and Soviet occupation does not have any direct connection to AP. The prevalence of organized crime among Armenians is more a product of having had to survive in the insanity of the Soviet Communism for the past 70 years. In that system, cheating the government was the only way to survive. That's why you see the same patterns of criminal behavior among all immigrants from the former Communist countries in Eastern Europe, and not just the Armenians. In AP's case, it was that combined with the general lawlessness and "Barrio-culture" that has dominated the streets of Los Angeles for decades before the Armenians moved here. AP is a uniquely American phenomenon, you don't see street gangs like it anywhere in Europe, the Middle East or Asia.

Burning_Tigris @ 11/9/2012 7:38 PM

Lastly, to the original comment by SL, I don't doubt your a police officer, as I've met many who dislike Armenians. I guess you need to retake those community relations classes police forces offer today. I won't directly defend any Armenians engaged in criminal behavior, but Armenians tend to commit mainly White-collar, non-violent, financial crimes. Do you have an easier and more pleasant time dealing with the uneducated members of other ethnicities who commit their own "stereotypical" crimes? Is the White child molester, Hispanic gang member, Black violent burglar and batterer, Asian fraudster, or Jewish financial scam kingpin in any way better or nicer to you than an Armenian? I don't mean to say all those ethnicites are composed of criminals, but I feel like you would connect more easily with that kind of thinking. You're probably one of those bitter officers that pulls over Armenians and other immigrants, gives them some stupid traffic ticket and then you grumle about why they drive a nicer car than a "real American" such as yourself.

Sarmen @ 11/28/2012 9:28 PM

@ Burning_Tigris Wow, Your comments are more accurate and fascinating than the article. What you said about JCAG being politically motivated and how AP is more of an uniquely American phenomenon was articulated perfectly. I am proud to be an Armenian living in Australia and am proud of my heritage. I am surprised and appalled that a Law Enforcement Officer would condemn an entire ethnicity based upon encounters with people from troubled neighbourhoods. You would think a Law Enforcement Officer would have more sense.

Kesbsta @ 4/25/2013 8:02 PM

Linking AP & JCAG is laughable. It's as if the writer blurted out the two Armenian references he knew under duress. Burning Tigris nailed it. JCAG was an anti-Communist version of ASALA. Any Armenian who was a teenager in the 80s knows this much. AP was a Soviet Armenian (in the times of USSR) crime syndicate and gang. AP was not politically motivated and is not, though they may have a nationalistic strain. JCAG was all politics. Terrorism is political violence targeting non-combatants. AP is apolitical.

Yes Burning Tigris, this sounds like a typical LA cop who assumes all Armenians are con artists and resents their outward displays of materialism. I don't like it either, but it's not for me to judge. I do not respect hoodlums either. We Armenians used to be a model minority in the US up until the last 30 years. The Soviet system is no longer an excuse. People who scam know it's wrong, whether Russian, Ukrainian, Armenian, whatever.

*But back to the original point, the only link between AP & JCAG is the A part. Any attempt to create a link is false and has a generalized anti-Armenian agenda.

Kesbsta @ 4/25/2013 8:11 PM

There is a link between the young kids in AP and the older "chef" and "kavor" of the Russian mob . . . sort of like a link between Jackie Aprile, Jr. & Johnny Sac. But JCAG did not do it for money or power. These were true believers who (in some cases) died and (in other cases) killed for a cause, that being fighting Turkish genocide denial.

I remember news casts from 80s saying the acts in Lisbon, Ottawa were "revenge" for 1915. Silly. It was not revenge, it was political violence aimed at officials of a government that was aiding and abetting an ongoing war crime (accessory after the crime). While I do not endorse these acts, or any violence, let's at least call it what it was. It was a tactic (terrorism is nothing but a tactic) to keep the issue alive. It succeeded in keeping the issue alive and talked about. Non-violent activity might have done the same, but as they new dictates, "if it bleeds, it leads."

steven @ 4/26/2013 9:40 PM

I was set up and informed on by a Tashnag sharkayin member, who was a JCAG was a politically corrupt organsiation that was motivated by profit too....they used donations to buys diamon rings for their whores

Kesbtsa @ 4/27/2013 4:51 PM

Steven, you could say the same about all political organizations in all countries (re: profit). Republicans, Democrats, Hunchags, Tashnags, Ramgavars in diaspora and most of the political organizations in Armenia or any country. But AP is not political and JCAG was linked to the ARF. They might have bought diamond rings for their whores as you said, but my point is that AP had and still has no political agenda, wheeras ASALA and JCAG did.

steven @ 4/27/2013 5:15 PM

Kesbtsa, at least AP is upfront about being "gangsters".....ARF and JCAG act like they have a political agenda, when they are deceitful, power tripping scum that have used and abused the community for their own personal profit and gain...absolute con men who take all you idiots who belive in them for a ride....protectors of stoolies and police informers

steven @ 4/29/2013 5:16 PM

And the tashnags and JCAG used to engage in an active campaign of brainwashing good hearted Armenian youth from low socio-economic status to committ acts of terrorism

steven @ 4/29/2013 5:18 PM

Absolute scum whom I pray rot in hell for eternity for alll the mothers tears that they have caused....corrupt, rotten scum who stole from the Armenian community....muyrid koonem tashnag shoon er...your day will come

steven @ 7/1/2013 11:59 PM

A dirty filfthy organsiation which is based on brainwashing and mind control....they used to collect protection money from my relatives in Lebanon so they could pay for their whores in USA, Canada and Australia, they have sent the Armenian School broke.....

Alexander Berejiklian @ 9/10/2013 6:39 PM


Free Cyclops and Big AL !!!

Steve @ 9/27/2013 7:26 PM

Armenians in Australia are corrupt and tashnags in Australia are corrupt..they destroy the lives of innocent people in their community...jealous , filthy money hungry dogs that prostitute their mothers for a dollar...why do they pursue the genocide issue when they cannot even respect the living Armenians..anina sikiyim tashnag

Lowkey213 @ 10/30/2014 11:23 PM

First off, to officer SL. For one your a disgrace to the badge, even criminals respect righteousness. Righteousness doesn't discriminate, the problem is you break the laws you pretend to protect, and you just showed law enforcements mentality to Armenians as a whole. You don't think we know when we are pulled over for being Armenian? And yet you want us to bow down, history shows we stand proud, we don't bow. Second, for good or bad, everything has it's reasons and effects. To those, especially those Armenians calling groups like AP scum. Do you realize the only reason you were able to maintain your culture in places like Hollywood was because of them, your sons gave their lives and futures to dominate an area so your daughters can walk home from school without being sexually harassed by other ethnic groups. So your kids can go to school and not worry about being bullied and punked so they can educate themselves and brighten all out futures. AP made it where you can get arrested and go to jail in some of Americas hardest jails and prisons and come out in one pieces. Go back to the late 80's and 90's, you think you called 911 for help? The racist police like the one leaving comments up there. No you relied on your people, after all a man takes care of his own problems right? But 15 years later, now Armenians are many and suddenly those sacrifices are forgotten right? Yet neither law enforcements mentality has changed towards you, and your belittling comments are kept to yourself when you get your DUI and hit county, suddenly so and so from AP was your friend. My point is think, legality isn't morality and morality isn't legality. That's why our us soldiers come back shell shocked from war, cause a license to kill doesn't make it OK to do so does it, a necessary evil none the less of which sacrifice is praised. So Don't forget the hard times when your living good, and don't forget the good when your living hard. E Hollywood made me, what made you?

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