LOS ANGELES - A father and son were arrested Thursday afternoon as they were about to board a plane to Moscow on charges that the older man sent tens of thousands of bogus "invoices" to small business owners in California in a shakedown scheme that caused at least 5,000 victims to send $225 to a fake company that purported to be a state agency, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
The men - Viktor Ryzhkin, 45, of the Little Armenia section of Los Angeles; and his son, Evgenii Ryzhkin, 22, who lived with his father - were arrested at Los Angeles International Airport by federal agents as they prepared to board a Transaero Airlines flight to Russia, federal officials stated.
The Ryzhkins, both of whom are Russian nationals, and two other family members, all had one-way tickets to Moscow that had been purchased on Monday, authorities stated.
According to a criminal complaint filed Thursday afternoon in federal court, Viktor Ryzhkin targeted more than 170,000 California small business owners in a mail fraud scheme that would have brought in nearly $40 million had all of the potential victims complied with demands to send payments to "Corporate Business Filings," a Beverly Hills company set up and controlled by Viktor Ryzhkin.
The small business owners targeted in this scheme received invoices that appeared to be from the State of California, notifying them that they each owed $225 to the state and directing them to fill out certain forms related to their businesses.
The letters sent to the victims - all of which were sent over the course of several days at the end of March and beginning of April - each listed the correct, publicly available California Small Business Administration entity number assigned to the particular small business, officials stated.
The business owners were told in the letters that they would face $250 penalties if they did not remit payment by April 15, 2013, and did not fill out the forms as directed. The letters and invoices that appeared to be from the State of California were completely bogus, federal authorities stated.