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GPD helps bust suspected opium ring

August 30, 2003

Darleene Barrientos

Several local residents were arrested by the Drug Enforcement

Administration and the Glendale Police Department, which seized more

than $1 million worth of raw opium in an alleged international drug

production and smuggling ring.

The ring, which spanned from growers raising opium in Afghanistan

to users buying the end product in Glendale, operated for several

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years out of a Pacoima car wash, according to John Fernandes, acting

special agent in charge of the DEA in Los Angeles.

"This is probably the best seizure from an organization that had

the capabilities to bring in large quantities of opium and the

network to distribute it," Fernandes said Friday.

Authorities seized about 88 pounds of raw opium, Fernandes said,

adding that it had a street value of about $10 million. About $16,000

in cash and several handguns was also seized.

The ring's activity goes back a decade, Glendale Police Chief

Randy Adams said. Glendale Police had arrested several of the people

in the past for possession of opium, and Glendale Police

vice/narcotics Investigators Craig Tweedy and Bob Breckenridge used

that information to develop files on the ring.

Thursday's bust was a joint effort by the department, the DEA, the

FBI and the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement to take

down the whole network, Adams said

"It's a good example of what you get when you collectively join

forces," Adams said. "You get some pretty good results."

The alleged opium ring was one of the most sophisticated drug

organizations he had ever seen, Fernandes said, and it took the work

of several agencies to dismantle the network.

"The Glendale Police Department works from the bottom up,"

Glendale Police Lt. Gary Montecuollo said. "The DEA works from the

top down. Sometimes, we meet in the middle."

Aspet Tony Abramian, 41, Ardash Harytoonian -- also known as

Artoosh Harytoonian -- 56, Joseph Isagulyan, 43, Valod Davoodi, 36,

Katrin Konaraki, 32, and Nejdeh Yeroomian, 49, all of Glendale, were

arrested Thursday, along with Malek Khodaverdy, 52, of Sun Valley,

Jalal Dehbashibehbahani, 45, of Los Angeles, and Andranik

Khodaverdian, 55, of La Canada Flintridge. Several search warrants

were issued and served on their homes, Glendale Police Sgt. Tom

Lorenz said.

Also arrested were Shahin Khodagalian, of Burbank, Mario Enrique

Gonzalez, of Chino, Janhagir Lahigi, of Tarzana, Edik Alexi, of Van

Nuys, Haymak Yeroonian, of Granada Hills, and Arsalan Kuchikali, of

Canoga Park.

The group, allegedly masterminded by Khodaverdy, reportedly worked

out of Custom Car Wash at 12719 Osborne St. in Pacoima, across the

street from the Los Angeles Police Department's Foothill Division

station.

While Afghanistan warlords grew the opium and the drug made its

way through Iran and Europe into California, to be funneled across

the rest of the United States, there was no evidence Friday that any

profits were traced back to Taliban forces, the Al Qaeda terrorist

network or Afghan warlords, Lorenz said.

The 14 people, being held Friday in federal custody, were indicted

Thursday on felony charges of conspiracy and money laundering. If

convicted, each faces 10 years to life in prison.

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