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Ex-consul, 4 others held in letters case

LOS ANGELES, July 28 (UPI) -- A former Armenian consul in Los Angeles and a Beverly Hills immigration attorney are among five people charged with immigration offenses, U.S. officials said.

The five were arrested Monday night and Tuesday morning on federal charges that they allegedly obtained and sold to illegal aliens documents called "letters of refusal," which allowed the aliens to avoid deportation, the U.S. Justice Department said.

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A "letter of refusal" is issued by an embassy or a consulate and says a country will not issue a travel document for an individual. The department said that effectively blocks the individual's deportation to that nation.

Documents said the five allegedly sold official letters of refusal from the Armenian consulate for as much as $35,000. The department said an investigation said many of those who purchased the letters were Armenian nationals facing deportation after being convicted in the United States of felony offenses.

The five arrested are Norair Ghalumian, 52, of Burbank, Calif., the Armenian consul in Los Angeles from 1999 through 2003; Hakop Hovanesyan, 54, of Glendale, Calif., a former employee at the Armenian consulate in Los Angeles and operator of Regency Travel in Glendale; Margarita Mkrtchyan, 41, of Glendale, an immigration attorney for Inman and Associates law firm in Beverly Hills; Oganes Nardos, 36, of Valencia, Calif., a substance abuse counselor; and Elvis Madatyan, 47, of Glendale.

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The charge of obstructing immigration proceedings carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison if convicted.

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