IHSS scam pervasive in a tightknit Fresno community, prosecutors say

FRESNO, Calif.

The alleged fraud ring in Fresno's Russian-Armenian community involved state-funded Medi-Cal and In-Home Social Services.

The suspects have been under heavy scrutiny for almost two years, but didn't know it until recently. Now, they're all cut off from taxpayer money, and facing felony charges.

"Who takes care of you?" an Action News reporter asked Azat Martirosyan.

"Right now, my daughter," he said.

Martirosyan claims to be too sick to take care of himself.

"Why does your daughter have to come here and take care of you and get paid by the state for it?" the reporter asked.

"Because I can't go in the shower myself," Martirosyan said. "I can't take food in myself."

To keep him in his own home, and out of a nursing home, taxpayers have paid his family members thousands of dollars to keep him healthy. But when Action News spoke to him Tuesday, he had just bailed out of jail on charges he cheated the system and essentially stole that money from taxpayers.

"They say you told the doctor you can't do something, but you actually can," the reporter said.

"I just don't understand," said Martirosyan.

The 50-year-old is one of 17 people prosecutors charged with grand theft, Medi-Cal fraud, and lying to a public officer.

Action News uncovered a search warrant says they're all Russian-Armenian immigrants who were overstating their medical problems and physical limitations to get more money than they should for in-home support service.

Investigators say undercover officers and video surveillance proved their claims were lies. In big cases like this one, prosecutors say word spreads among a tight-knit group of people about how to commit fraud.

"There's usually typically a connection," said Fresno County's chief assistant district attorney, Kelly Keenan. "They belong to the same organization or they're in the same neighborhood or they maybe belong to the same church."

The suspects range in age from 23 to 88. Pogos Zograbyan, Susan Bursalyan and Arpinee Arakelian were arrested last week, but investigators are allowing most of the suspects to just schedule a court date. Martirosyan scheduled his, but says he'd rather leave the country than face the charges.

"Ii make a mistake coming to America," he said. "This is not right."

Prosecutors say the suspects in these cases defrauded the state out of about $265,000. If convicted, they face as long as three years in county jail, and could be forced to repay the money they took.

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