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2 Sisters Cleared in Jewelry District Case : Trial: They were charged in a massive investigation of an alleged drug money laundering operation.

December 18, 1990|HENRY WEINSTEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A federal court jury Monday acquitted two sisters of conspiracy and money-laundering charges in a case involving "Operation Polar Cap," a massive drug and currency investigation focused in Los Angeles' downtown jewelry district.

The jurors found Joyce Momjdian, 25, and Zepur Moroyan, 22, both of La Crescenta, not guilty of 26 charges lodged against them in a 1989 indictment. The jury has now exonerated four of nine defendants in 12 days of deliberations and is continuing deliberations on five other defendants.

"I'm happy, very happy" said a smiling Moroyan, a $250-a-week receptionist, after the verdicts were announced in the seven-month-long trial.

Momjdian said she was scared about what the jury might do, even though "inside I knew I hadn't done anything." She was a $280-a-week bookkeeper when arrested.

Both women worked at Andonian Bros., a jewelry company at 225 W. 5th St., where a huge drug-laundering ring allegedly was centered. They said that they are cousins of Nazareth Andonian, one of the lead defendants in the case.

The Justice Department has alleged that the defendants illegally laundered $350 million in drug money and wired it to contacts in Montevideo, Uruguay, and Panama City, and that the money was used to export cocaine to the United States.

The two women were arrested in a raid in the jewelry district in February, 1989. The government alleged that Momjdian and Moroyan were among those who unpacked and counted cocaine proceeds and then repacked it into boxes, plastic bags and catalogue cases for deposit in Los Angeles banks or shipment by Brinks truck. The women also were accused of helping to facilitate the wire transfer of the funds to banks in New York and elsewhere in an attempt to conceal the ownership of the funds.

Elliot Stanford, Momjdian's lawyer, and Paul Potter, Moroyan's attorney, said that their clients were unaware of any illegal activity, had committed no crimes and had been unjustly arrested.

Originally, there were 17 defendants in the case. Four defendants pleaded guilty, including a Florida company and two of its officials. The government dismissed charges against three defendants before the trial began and U.S. District Judge William D. Keller exonerated one of the accused after the prosecution concluded its case.

The remaining defendants are Juan Carlos Seresi, Ruben Sani, Vahe Andonian, Nazareth Andonian and Raul Vivas, a Bueno Aires gold dealer who allegedly orchestrated the money-laundering scheme from a currency exchange called Cambo Italia in Montevideo. Earlier this month, the jury announced that it had found Vivas guilty of conspiracy but said it was still deliberating 26 other counts against him.

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