WASHINGTON - A second U.S. resident has pleaded guilty this week to federal charges stemming from an elaborate visa fraud scheme to bring Armenians to the United States under the guise of being folk dance performers.
Armenian national and California resident Hrachya Atoyan, 32, took part in an illegal transnational network that told U.S. immigration authorities the supposed dancers were coming to America to perform and therefore qualified for "Culturally Unique Artist" visas, according to the Department of Justice.
Atoyan and others in the network are said to have charged Armenian nationals between $3,000 and $10,000 to come to the U.S. as part of a fake dance troupe.
Stella Boyadjian, a New York resident accused of leading the fraud ring, pleaded guilty to multiple federal charges in March, but has not been sentenced. A third defendant, Diana Grigoryan, also has been charged in the case.
Investigators said Boyadjian used the Big Apple Music Awards Foundation, a nonprofit organization she created, as a front for the scheme, according to a 2018 indictment.
Boyadjian and others had fake "dance certificates" made, arranged photo shoots "to make it appear as though they were traditional Armenian musicians, singers and performers," and created flyers about fake concerts to justify a performance "tour" for the visa applicants, according to the indictment.
"Exploiting the P-3 nonimmigrant visa classification system for culturally unique artists and entertainers makes a mockery out of the legitimate performers for whom that visa was intended," said Assistant Attorney General Brian Benczkowski of the Justice Department's Criminal Division.
Cultural visas are intended to allow people to "temporarily travel to the United States to perform, teach or coach as artists or entertainers," according to the DOJ.
Atoyan is scheduled to be sentenced on Feb. 20, 2020.