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Tarzana Man Pleads Guilty in Fraud Case

October 17, 2003|Hector Becerra | Times Staff Writer

A Tarzana man pleaded guilty for his role in an $11-million scheme in which he and co-conspirators acquired companies and then used their lines of credit to buy enormous amounts of merchandise before filing for bankruptcy.

Valery Vasserman, 57, pleaded guilty Oct. 10 to charges that included conspiracy, mail fraud and wire fraud. Three other people had already pleaded guilty to similar charges: Vasserman's wife, Klara, 56; Vic Khodarkovsky, 37, of Sherman Oaks; and Joanna Cassidy, 39, of Santa Clarita. Cassidy also pleaded guilty to money laundering, Assistant U.S. Atty. Eileen Decker said.

The defendants defrauded more than 650 individuals and businesses in the United States and Canada. They bought merchandise on credit from such stores as Tiffany, Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue and sold it on the black market at heavily discounted prices, Decker said.

Those involved in the schemes met to discuss the division of profits and what and how much merchandise would be purchased and from which stores, Decker said.

Many store employees who unknowingly extended credit to members of the fraud ring lost their jobs or were demoted when employers suspected they might be involved in the scheme or blamed the workers for losses, Decker said.

Authorities said Robert Saab, 41, of Palmdale and Vasserman's son Henry Wasserman, 34, of Woodland Hills directed the fraud ring, installing four men as presidents of four front companies between 1995 and 2000.

As presidents, Valery Vasserman, Khodarkovsky and two others who have yet to be charged expanded the companies' existing lines of credit, accrued huge expenses, then "busted-out" -- filed for bankruptcy -- to avoid paying, Decker said.

Saab is a fugitive, possibly somewhere in the Middle East, Decker said.

Henry Wasserman has been charged with conspiracy, mail fraud, wire fraud and money laundering, but pretrial issues are being litigated in an appeals court to determine whether he will go to trial, Decker said.

"Cassidy was a person who was involved in all four schemes. She worked for one of the people who we have charged as a ringleader, Robert Saab," Decker said.

Klara Vasserman admitted that she and her husband had spent more than $350,000 buying goods at such retailers as Tiffany, Nordstrom and Ben Bridge Jewelers.

In 1998, Valery Vasserman bought a Chatsworth company, Casta Inc., from his daughter-in-law. The company, which used to sell general merchandise, remained dormant for about 18 months before reopening as a lumber company. The company shut down within six months of reopening, Decker said.

Decker said most of the front businesses had operated for only about six months. The defendants bought inexpensive companies with good credit histories, she said. The people who sold the businesses, including Vasserman's daughter-in-law, were not involved in the frauds, Decker said.

Valery Vasserman gave his daughter-in-law a promissory note to pay her later, but never did, Decker said.

Khodarkovsky headed another company, Interocean, in Sun Valley, beginning in 1995. Another man, who has not yet been indicted, was president of A to Z Trading in Commerce from late 1999 to early 2000. Although the men knew each other and socialized together, they operated the companies separately, Decker said. A fourth company, Western Distributors in Santa Fe Springs, which was also involved, was run by another man, who also has not yet been charged.

Valery Vasserman's attorney said his client had pleaded guilty because he felt it was time to move on.

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