Sun, 21 Jul 2019

Music Stops for Folk Dance US Visa Fraud Scheme

Voice of America
18 Apr 2019, 08:05 GMT+10

WASHINGTON - Armenian folk dancers. Photo shoots in costumes. Concert flyers.

Stella Boyadjian's visa fraud scheme was nothing if not elaborate.

For two years, according to federal court records, the New York resident would charge foreign nationals up to $15,000 to include them on P-3 visa applications ones designated for 'culturally unique' artists or entertainers in order to enter the United States legally. The visa is meant for artists to visit the U.S., practice their craft, and return to their home countries.

U.S. government lawyers allege Boyadjian and two co-conspirators whose cases are ongoing 'well knew and believed' the traditional Armenian musicians, singers and performers they touted on promotional flyers were frauds.

At least 10 visa applications were involved, court records show. The federal prosecutor in the case was unavailable to comment on whether the scope of the scheme extended beyond the cases listed in the indictment.

Boyadjian, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Armenia, pleaded guilty last month to three of 15 charges: conspiracy to bring aliens unlawfully into the United States, visa fraud, and aggravated identity theft. She faces up to 12 years in prison.

Dance, dance, dance

Boyadjian, 48, founded the Big Apple Music Awards Foundation (BAMA) in 2010, according to the group's still-active social media accounts. The organization 'supports and embraces the talent of ethnic culture, Caucasian and Central Asian, by creating multicultural events for the community and having public television programs that will highlight the arts and music.'

Since successful P-3 visa applications require some proof that the artists are, in fact, artists, according to the 2018 indictment. So from January 2013 to December 2014, Boyadjian had a network of people who helped make fake 'dance certificates' and arranged photo shoots 'to make it appear as though they were traditional Armenian musicians, singers and performers.'

Boyadjian wanted to prove the Hayko Folk Group had upcoming performances scheduled, so they created flyers about fake concerts, with locations and venues in the United States, to prove further credibility for the dancers.

She and her two colleagues also would coach applicants on how to pass their consular interviews, U.S. prosecutors alleged. They charged $3,000 to $15,000 per applicant.

The setup was successful on at least two occasions, at least in the short-term. Both co-conspirators named in the indictment came to the US on P-3 visas sponsored by BAMA, according to court documents: Hrachya Atoyan, 30, of Glendale, California; and Diana Grigoryan, also known as Dina Akopovna, 41, of the Republic of Armenia.

Atoyan overstayed his visa after extending it once, and was living in California at the time of the indictment. Grigoryan returned to Armenia, according to the indictment.

Though court documents only name these three as part of the ruse, they also worked 'together with others.' The prosecutor was unavailable to comment on whether more indictments are expected in the case.

Contacted via social media, a man listed on LinkedIn as a manager for BAMA said he had 'nothing to do' with Boyadjian, he only helped her with social media promotion.

The extent of Boyadjian's scheme may go beyond these charges.

A sentencing date for Boyadjian has not yet been set. Attempts to reach her lawyer of record were unsuccessful.

Atoyan is negotiating a plea agreement with federal prosecutors, according to court records.

The charges against Grigoryan are pending.

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