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4 Charged With Murder in Shootout

Crime: The suspects are accused in alleged attempted extortion of a Glendale merchant that left two dead.

December 21, 1996|EFRAIN HERNANDEZ JR. | TIMES STAFF WRITER

GLENDALE — Four suspects in the alleged attempted extortion of a Glendale merchant that turned into a bloody shootout and left two dead were charged with murder Friday.

The suspects, who were arrested shortly after the shooting late Tuesday at the Mirage Clothing & Shoes store on Glendale Avenue, also face charges of attempted murder, robbery and conspiracy to commit robbery.

Glendale police, eager to encourage residents and merchants to help prevent further tragedies, set up an extortion hotline Friday at (818) 548-2119.

The shooting, which resulted in the death of one suspect and one bystander, has heightened concerns by local and federal authorities about business extortion and related crimes throughout the region. Authorities said Armenian businesses especially are being targeted in Glendale, Burbank and North Hollywood.

"We are looking at this from a regional perspective," Glendale Police Chief James E. Anthony said. "I think the answer to this is multifaceted."

Federal authorities are investigating patterns of extortion in the Russian and Armenian communities with particular interest in clothing outlet stores, one official said.

Sources said authorities are looking for connections with a series of killings tied to the Carole Little clothing company during the past few years. Top executives and others involved with the chic women's clothing company were terrorized after the firm began cutting back on sewing contractors, authorities said.

Several authorities and community representatives said educating the public--especially newly arrived immigrants who may be distrustful of police--about reporting problems will help stem the growing trend toward extortion.

"We need to break down any real or perceived barriers," Anthony said. "We must always strive to gain and maintain the confidence of the community."

Although several community representatives emphasized they do not believe extortion incidents are widespread, they agreed that educating newcomers was essential to fighting existing problems.

"We always encourage our community that if they know of illegal activity to report it, to not be afraid because it's only going to get worse," said Vic Papazian, executive director of the Armenian National Committee's western region. "People are naturally afraid."

Municipal Court Commissioner Dona Bracke on Friday ordered the four men charged in the Tuesday shooting held without bail. Their arraignments were continued to Jan. 9.

The defendants in the case are Gagik Kazarian, 42, of Glendale; Khoren Broutian, 32, of Hollywood; Hovik Fiterz, 36, and Mger Tagvoryan, 23, both of North Hollywood. Charges were not filed against a fifth man, Omar Casas, 18, of Granada Hills, who also was arrested after the shooting.

Authorities said numerous shots were fired shortly after 11:30 p.m. Tuesday when the merchant refused to pay protection money to the suspects.

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Police said the suspects allegedly assaulted the merchant's brother and began firing gunshots. In response, the merchant is believed to have grabbed his own gun and begun firing back in self-defense, police said.

The shooting left a bystander, Edmon Tokatlyan, 19, of Glendale, and an alleged assailant, Artur Atayan, 27, of North Hollywood, fatally wounded.

Another youth, the merchant's 17-year-old nephew, was shot in the groin but his injury was not considered life-threatening, authorities said.

The merchant, whose name is being withheld because police fear for his safety, was open for business Friday but declined to speak about the case.

"It's my first day back," he said. "I'm not ready."

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