A former attorney from Pasadena faces sentencing Thursday for falsely telling clients that he won favorable rulings for them, perpetuating the scheme by delivering phony legal documents with the forged signatures of judges and making disguised telephone calls.
Shant Ohanian, 38, pleaded guilty two years ago in Los Angeles federal court to one count of wire fraud. The government is asking for a prison sentence of 17 years and restitution. Calling it “a crime of desperation,” defense attorneys recommend a term of nearly 5 1/2 years, court papers show.
A November sentencing hearing was postponed when defense counsel learned through one of the defendant’s family members that Ohanian had tested positive for COVID-19 and was experiencing symptoms. Per protocol, the Metropolitan Detention Center-Los Angeles will not bring defendants to the attorney visitation room for a Zoom hearing following a positive test.
Ohanian was a licensed lawyer from January 2012 until he was disbarred five years later. Beginning in May 2012, he and a co-conspirator engaged in a scheme to defraud clients by falsely claiming he obtained favorable legal resolutions for them. In many cases, Ohanian had never even initiated a legal action.
The defendant admitted in his plea agreement to defrauding multiple victims, including a client who hired Ohanian in July 2013 to assist in the recovery of a $500,000 deposit related to a failed commercial real estate transaction involving 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 $1.9 million check, which a bank later rejected. Ohanian denied the check was counterfeit and in March 2016 presented the victim with a check for $7.2 million, which also was rejected as counterfeit.
Ohanian also falsely stated that he was representing the victim in a parallel bankruptcy proceeding involving the Ontario shopping center, and he provided the victim with phony bankruptcy court pleadings, including orders that contained the forged signature of a United States bankruptcy judge.
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.
Between March 2016 and September 2017, the victim paid Ohanian $2.8 million based on his false representations that the money would be used to acquire the shopping center.
Ohanian also admitted to victimizing other clients, including a woman who suffered serious injuries in a fall at the South Coast Plaza shopping mall, and for whom the statute of limitations had expired 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 told 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, pleaded not guilty to a wire fraud count in a related case and is scheduled for trial in September.