updated 2/16/2011 6:54:01 PM ET 2011-02-16T23:54:01

Authorities arrested dozens of suspected members of a multi-generational Armenian street gang Wednesday believed to be working with other organized crime groups to commit white-collar crimes such as identity theft and credit card scams.

More than 70 people were taken into custody during raids across Southern California, and another 25 or so remained at large, officials said.

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Other defendants were named in related indictments unsealed in Denver and Miami.

In all, 102 defendants faced charges in federal and state courts, capping a nationwide, two-year probe into the Armenian Power gang that was formed in East Hollywood in the 1980s as young men sought to protect themselves from Hispanic street gangs.

Authorities say the gang is violent but has coupled its aggression with a willingness to work with other crime groups and become more tech-savvy.

"Armenian Power members are considered to be exceedingly resourceful and have seized opportunities to collaborate," said Steven Martinez, assistant director in charge of the FBI in Los Angeles.

The gang has grown to include more than 200 members and is now based in Glendale and nearby areas of the San Fernando Valley. Officials said the number of arrests Wednesday suggests the gang, for now, will have difficulty operating.

"We've made an important first step in really disrupting this gang," U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr. said.

Authorities said one of the groups the gang allegedly collaborates with is the prison-based Mexican Mafia, which controls much of the Hispanic gang activity in Southern California. The gang also maintains ties to Armenia and Russia and works with high-level crime figures from those countries, authorities said.

Martinez said those arrested ranged from their early 20s to much older, indicating the gang is a multi-generational enterprise.

In a federal racketeering indictment, authorities said 29 Armenian Power members and affiliates secretly installed credit card "skimming" machines at discount stores across Southern California then used the information to create bogus credit and debit cards.

Another federal indictment unsealed in Santa Ana alleged that 20 defendants had engaged in a bank fraud scheme that targeted elderly victims. Investigators in that case say Armenian Power members worked with other street gang members to bribe bank insiders for information then stole at least $10 million from victims' accounts.

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The Denver indictment charges a woman with conspiring to lie on credit card and loan applications, and two Miami indictments allege health care fraud schemes dating back to 2007.

Court documents allege one of the Florida suspects met in Miami with a "thief-in-law" who represented a group from Russia and the former Soviet Union that resolves disputes among criminals.

"This is the largest national take down of Eurasian organized crime," said John V. Gillies, special agent in charge of the FBI Miami field office. "Today's significance is not just from the sheer number of arrests, but from disrupting their criminal influence in our community."

Wednesday's sweep, called "Operation Power Outage," followed an October action that saw the arrests of dozens of men alleged to be members of Armenian organized crime groups who had devised complex ways of scamming Medicare.


AP writer Christine Armario contributed to this report from Miami.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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