A Question of Identity

Which accused LA crime figure is a friend of a friend of ex-Los Angeles DA Steve Cooley?

A Question of Identity
Jim Rugg

UPDATE: Just days after claiming that Los Angeles businessman Sam Solakyan was a “target” in an ongoing identity-theft investigation -- and being rebuked by U.S. Magistrate Judge Arthur Nakazato for what the judge called “unsubstantiated” assertions -- Assistant United States Attorney Todd T. Tristan withdrew the allegations. Tristan admitted to the court that the government had no reason to suggest that Solakyan was a target in the case, during which Solakyan had attempted to post bail for family friend Suren Gambaryan, who was one of seven men indicted by a federal grand jury. Nakazato later accused Tristan of making “reckless, disparaging insinuations and innuendos” against Solakyan, and Tristan was removed from the case by his superiors.

Internal Revenue Service special agents tracking organized crime operations in Southern California might disagree, but Los Angeles' Sam Solakyan is the kind of millionaire friend anyone would want—at least based on his public persona. Solakyan enjoys a reputation for showering gifts, especially on law enforcement officials. The 31-year-old Armenian who immigrated to the United States at the age of 6 and grew up in North Hollywood has given generous sums of money to the Burbank Police Department, city of Glendale, ex-Drug Enforcement Administration agents and California Highway Patrol-related officials.

So it is not necessarily surprising that Solakyan would try to come to the rescue of Suren Gambaryan, a longtime North Hollywood friend who found himself in serious trouble earlier this year. But Gambaryan (aka "Sonny") is no cop. According to the IRS Criminal Division, he's a dangerous member of Armenian Power, a Southern California crime family with outposts in Anaheim.

In February, IRS agents arrested Gambaryan after a federal grand jury issued a 132-count, identity-theft indictment against him and six other men: Ashot Karapetian of North Hollywood, Artak Berberyan of Van Nuys, Vigen Tsaturyan of Sun Valley, Akop Kantrdzyan of Sylmar, Armen Berberyan of Van Nuys, Armen Zargaryan of Granada Hills and David Samsonyan of Winnetka.

According to the 50-page indictment, the conspirators—all of whom have pleaded not guilty—stole identities in Los Angeles and Orange counties as part of a con game to rob the U.S. Treasury. Agents claim that during a two-year period beginning in 2010 the defendants filed 2,977 fraudulent Form 1040 tax returns (many using names of elderly citizens who no longer work) seeking $19.3 million in imaginary refunds. If the allegations are true, the scam worked well. Court records show that the IRS paid 62 percent of the fake claims for a total loss to taxpayers of more than $9,952,000.

While there's nothing special about identity theft-ring prosecutions nowadays, this case—though still in its infancy—has taken several fascinating turns. As a result, the region's law enforcement community is at bitter odds, a federal judge is seething and Solakyan has found his well-crafted saintly image at least temporarily soiled. According to a post-indictment affidavit filed by Assistant United States Attorney Todd T. Tristan, the cop-hugging businessman is "a target" in the ongoing, organized crime investigation.

Tristan's accusation against Solakyan is startling because the businessman has a stockpile of appreciative letters from police agencies. And last year, Solakyan hired former Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley, a man with tremendous criminal law knowledge but no known corporate law experience, to serve as chief legal counsel to Global Holdings, Inc., where Solakyan is the sole shareholder. According to the California Secretary of State's office, that company is one of at least 10 corporate entities controlled by Solakyan, including Paramount Management Services and Vital Imaging, which has won government contracts at the Los Angeles County Jail and the United States Navy Research Center.

In a 2012 Global Holdings brochure, Solakyan published a picture of himself shaking hands with Cooley and added a quote. "When he announced his retirement, I was persistent in convincing him to not fully retire just yet," he said. "I know that I can learn a lot from him so when he agreed to come aboard I was extremely happy."

Solakyan learned that he was a suspect after he tried to post more than $1.96 million in bail for Gambaryan. The government claims to have multiple telephone recordings of Gambaryan ordering fake California driver's licenses in the scam to dupe the IRS. For example, in "call #49" the defendant allegedly discusses creating fake IDs with Santa Ana and Anaheim addresses. In another call, he outlines ways to avoid law enforcement detection, according to court records.

During the execution of a search warrant, agents claim they recovered fake driver's licenses that matched the names on the IRS refund checks. As agents approached one location for a raid, they saw a small computer thumb drive tossed from the residence. It purportedly contained a spreadsheet of 109 fake names and fake refund requests totaling more than $81,000.

According to Tristan's court declarations, Solakyan is suspicious for multiple reasons, including taking "measures to conceal his true residence," his official documents contain misspellings even of his own name (a move the prosecutor says indicates deception), he owes several hundred thousand dollars in income tax for his $3.5 million Global Holdings' pay in 2011 and he falsely represented himself "to be in law enforcement" when questioned by an IRS agent. Adding to Tristan's mistrust is that the businessman purchased a badge and a gun-carrying permit in 2011 from a discredited (and now disbanded), two-person police agency 107 miles away in a one gas station town, Maricopa, CA. The federal prosecutor also alleges in his filings that Solakyan has been involved in the medical transport business, "a known source of the identities in this scheme," and that the businessman has "a close relationship" with Gambaryan.

Kenny Reed—Gambaryan's well-respected, Santa Ana-based defense lawyer—was shocked that Tristan seemed, in his view, to "dishonestly" smear Solakyan, "a pillar of the community," for trying to help his client obtain pre-trial bail. Reed claims that Solakyan is so respected in law enforcement in recent years "he met with department heads of the CIA, FBI, DEA and he toured the White House as a guest given a private tour." Reed also suggests that Cooley's association with Solakyan is unquestionable proof of his character.

But Sam Dordulian, a former Los Angeles County deputy district attorney and Solakyan's personal lawyer, is most incredulous. "I am dismayed at the level of unprofessionalism, utter disregard for the truth, logic and even reasoning," Dordulian wrote in an April 1 affidavit. "It seems the quest to 'win' at all cost is on full display by [Tristan] . . . To label my client a 'target' now simply because he had the audacity to offer his properties as a surety for an old family friend is an inappropriate use of authority."

U.S. Magistrate Judge Arthur Nakazato declared on March 27 that Tristan's filings to block Gambaryan's bail are so far mostly based on "unsubstantiated" assertions and are "a disgrace " because the prosecutor's briefs contain "numerous typographical, formatting, grammatical and spelling errors."

The 16-year judge, normally a favorite of prosecutors, hasn't hidden his contempt for Tristan's "disorganization." Yet Nakazato, whose parents suffered internment during World War II, is no sucker. He too has his suspicions about Solakyan, writing in an order of his "amazement" that someone so young could have obtained his "apparent wealth."

During a heated April 9 hearing inside Santa Ana's Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse, Tristan renewed his contentions that Solakyan's wealth is derived from "illegitimate" funds. Reed exploded at the sloppiness of the government's case–even declaring he will "rip open the chest" of the IRS agent on the case, Michael J. Walfield, when he lands on the witness stand. Nevertheless, Nakazato refused to grant Gambaryan's $3.55 million bail after noting the strength of Tristan's overall case. He ordered an April 22 hearing to resolve the issue of Solakyan's credibility, and he issued a warning to the prosecutor.

"You've painted Mr. Solakyan as part of the [criminal] operation as a straw man or a money launderer," the judge told Tristan. "If so, charge him accordingly. But if he turns out to be a solid citizen, then there will be hell to pay."

(This exclusive article first appeared online at 3 p.m. on April 10, 2013.)

Show Pages
My Voice Nation Help

Wow its insane some of the things that people say about Mr. Solakyan. While I have never had the pleasure of meeting him I can tell you that his contributions to the Glendale and Pasadena communities have been HUGE. He has helped the community in time honored events, education AND has even donated time and money into our police departments and hospitals

I think people need to actually go to his website and see some of the achievements and accolades he has received; not everything that happens in life has to be some kind of grand scheme or government conspiracy


Mitchell_Young topcommenter

More benefits of diversity! It's funny how this alt weekly is willing to go after the Armenians (one of the few plausibly white groups allowed to immigrate) but ignores Vietnamese, Mexican, Chinese, etc scams.


It is a shame that Cooley got suckered into this guy's scheme.  These are the guys Cooley was hired to take down. Hopefully Cooley will realize who he is dealing with and recuse himself.  Let that Geragos guy who likes being the mouthpiece for blatantly guilty crooks take his place.


Since the entire Orange County law enforcement community is a criminal fraud, I'm left to investigate my own case and to post these questions on the OC Weekly blog. Sort of a civil rights travesty/living history experiment. 

On several occasions (before the Garden Grove city council and before the Anaheim city council with police Chief Welter and OC DA Tony R present), I've asked the question of how I could be convicted of "using a false name and/or Date of Birth and not know about it until I received a "terms of probation" letter from the OC Superior court. Been asking the question since September. 2011 - no answer. I thought 3 years probation for traffic tickets was excessive but then I read that and said WTF? By the way, this doesn't do much for someone trying to further an engineering career. 

But just before that lovely event and 3 weeks after my father passed away, I was traveling to the Chase Branch on Chapman and Brookhurst  in order to start handling my dad's estate (08/24/10 approx. 12:00 PM) when I noticed that the entire Garden Grove police department came out to harass me en route to the bank. Considering my love affair with this law enforcement community, I was actually expecting it - I was going to legally recover significant monies.  It got even more strange when I arrived at the bank and found 3 GGPD vehicles parked in front (lic. plates:1261440, 1180859 and 1261441) with three male officers inside the bank including one just behind the front door as I entered. And here is where it gets interesting. In dealing with my father's estate I discovered that my name had somehow disappeared from the 1992 home loan for our Garden Grove property 12600 euclid street unit 5. A quick check of the recorders office clearly shows that I was a co-borrower on the loan with my parents (Deed of Trust)  and that I was a joint tenant (Grant Deed). Oh and it gets better - so I try to open up a checking account that day and the account rep informs me that the Social Security number that I gave her was under someone else's name. I had to suffer the humiliation of going to the Soc Sec. office to get a written confirmation that this was indeed my number. So a day or so later I go back, with written proof that I wasn't an IDENTITY thief and she quickly opened up my checking account - acting like everything is marvelous. But I'm like WTF? What about your comments from the other day? I think I need an explanation don't you? She eventually gives me the name that was mistakenly associated with my Social Security number and it turned out to be my mother's name. Anyhoo, Chase never gave me a consistent answer on my name disappearing and they never answered my question about the Social Security number screw up.  Considering that this institution was using your pension and 401K money as casino chips, I wasn't shocked at their attitude. But my exit question to the Garden Grove police department under the leadership of Joe Polisar: was your "extra" harassment that day just because it was an important financial matter day for me (in other words business as usual) or were you trying to help cover up this financial dog shit that I uncovered?

Exit question to the Orange County sheriffs department under the leadership of Sandra Hutchens: your timing in finding me for these traffic tickets was quite interesting: just after I started attending the Garden Grove city council meetings and right in the middle of another important estate matter - money I needed in order to continue paying for the mortgage on our home which was now my complete financial responsibility since my dad had just passed away. The comment/question of officer Wei were also quite interesting as well as the harassment action of a certain officer inside the "Facility" in which I found myself for 2 days. 

And this is just the G-rated stuff. Have a nice weekend Orange County. 

tongue_twister_for_t topcommenter

 "he owes several hundred thousand dollars in income tax for his $3.5 million Global Holdings' pay in 2011 and he falsely represented himself "to be in law enforcement" when questioned by an IRS agent".

So what is he doing out on the streets busting people that are less criminal than him if he owes 3.5 Million owed to taxpayers. And this guy's prosecuting others?


The reason "Honest" Steve Cooley gets a pass from the L A Times is he is a hard core Catholic and helped Roger "Me So Horny" Mahoney escape prosecution for protecting a bunch of CHILD MOLESTERS. Screw Cooley -  he's a pile of shit, but you will NEVER hear that from the Times


Steve Cooley is and always will be a crime lord/slum lord.  He put together Randy Adams's contract.  That is why he didn't prosecute him.  He has to get his money now by creating the illusion of influence, when in fact no one cares about that washed out politician who had no respect from DAs.  Everyone in the DAs office is so glad he is out of there.  He gets others around him to tell him he is great just to publish it in the media.  He is so insecure about himself that he has to drag is media whoring friends around to create the illusion that he has a brain.  I would like to put him in a room with a pencil and a peice of paper and see if he can even write a sentence on his own.  Everyone has done everything for him for 15 years and he is a grotesque joke.  He never even sat as first prosecutor in a murder trial.  I'd like to see him give an opening statement, if he could even put together a serious of thoughts for himself without directly reading it off paper.  His serious of thoughts would include "I earned it," and "stupid jury".  Adios FB aka "I want to eat my baby".


Maybe they can hire another of Cooley's good buddies, crooked former Glendale and Bell police chief Randy Adams


Boo-hoo-hoo....................wah, wah, wah............


Oops I forgot to ask the exit questions to the Sheriff - was your timing in 2010 as interesting for you as it was for me? Who asked this officer to ask me the question that he asked me? And who asked the officer at the "Facility" to harass me?


Since when has the left-leaning, socialist LA Times ever liked organized religion of any kind?  Being a mouth-piece for organized crime is a cafeteria, not a "hard-core," Catholic act.  They are against all religions.  All religious persons should be against organized crime. There is no doubt that this is a tip of an ice-berg.

Anaheim Concert Tickets