LOS ANGELES (CNS) - A former Pasadena attorney is expected to be sentenced to federal prison this morning for conning clients out of more than $4.4 million by falsely telling them that he obtained favorable legal resolutions in their cases and then backing up his lies by providing forged documents and making phony telephone calls.
Shant Ohanian, 37, pleaded guilty last year in Los Angeles federal court to one count of wire fraud. The government is asking for a prison sentence of 17 years and restitution of about $4.45 million. Calling it a “a crime of desperation,” his attorneys recommend a term of five years and three months behind bars, court papers show.
Ohanian was a licensed lawyer from January 2012 until he was disbarred in December 2017. Beginning in May 2012, he and his co-conspirator engaged in a scheme to defraud clients by claiming he obtained favorable legal resolutions for them, when in fact the favorable resolutions had never been obtained, and, in many cases, Ohanian had never initiated a legal action.
The defendant admitted in his plea agreement to defrauding multiple victims, including one victim who hired Ohanian in July 2013 to assist in the recovery of a $500,000 deposit related to a failed commercial real estate transaction for an Ontario shopping center. During the course of that litigation, Ohanian falsely said that the victim had prevailed in the case and would receive $1.2 million in damages plus penalties.
In February 2016, Ohanian presented the victim with a counterfeit check for $1.9 million, which a bank later rejected. Ohanian denied the check was counterfeit and in March 2016 he presented the victim with a check for $7.2 million, which also was rejected as counterfeit.
Ohanian also falsely informed the victim that he was representing the victim in a parallel bankruptcy proceeding involving the Ontario shopping center, and he provided the victim phony bankruptcy court pleadings, including orders that contained the forged signature of a United States bankruptcy judge, according to court documents.
Ohanian further admitted to making multiple phony phone calls to the victim in which he purported to be various bank or government officials. He also falsely informed the victim that he would acquire the Ontario shopping center at a discounted price in lieu of a cash settlement, and that the victim needed to make payments for back taxes and overdue mortgage payments in order to acquire the property, and to provide “unpaid court fees” to Ohanian even though no such fees were owed, court documents state.
Between March 2016 and September 2017, the victim paid Ohanian $2.8 million based on Ohanian's false representations that the money would be used to acquire the shopping center, according to court documents.
Ohanian admitted to victimizing other clients, including a woman who suffered serious injuries in a fall at South Coast Plaza mall, and for whom the statute of limitations had expired in the case before she realized Ohanian had defrauded her.
Ohanian admitted to sending the victim a phony settlement agreement from the mall and, after she threatened to report him to the State Bar of California, a check for $25,000 that turned out to have been canceled. He also falsely represented to clients seeking immigration relief that he had obtained important legal resolutions related to their ability to live and work in the U.S.
Ohanian's wife, Silva Sevlian Ohanian, has been charged with one count of wire fraud in a related case. She has pleaded not guilty to the charge and is currently awaiting trial.