Feds seize huge L.A. mansion they say was bought with bribes

The United States government plans to sell off a multimillion-dollar L.A. mansion forfeited by the family of a former Armenian politician who was accused of using the property to launder bribes.

The U.S. Department of Justice announced a civil forfeiture settlement Monday against the 11-bedroom, 27-bathroom French chateau-style mansion in one of L.A.'s most exclusive neighborhoods, Holmby Hills.

The 33,652-square-foot home — a few doors down from the Playboy Mansion — belonged to the sons of Gagik Khachatryan, Armenia's former minister of finance.

Under the settlement, the U.S. will sell the property "at the highest obtainable market price." The home was previously listed for sale at $63.5 million in 2022. It was later relisted for slightly less than $40 million.

The government said it will keep 85% of the net proceeds from the sale, with the rest delivered to Khachatryan’s sons and a corporation they own.

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The government first announced it would seek forfeiture in May 2022. But court records show the process stalled for almost two years pending the resolution of a related criminal investigation.

An attorney representing Gagik's sons, Artyom and Gurgen Khachatryan, released a statement that said his clients have been provided “with written assurance that the U.S. Government has closed its criminal investigation in its entirety."

The government confirmed it provided a letter stating that it is not pursuing criminal charges at this time.

The attorney, Ephraim Wernick, said his clients "agreed to resolve the existing claims without any admission of wrongdoing." He added that the brothers "continue to forcefully deny any wrongdoing in connection with their purchase and ownership" of the property.

He called the case "politically motivated" and "based on false accusations."

"It is the Khachatryans’ sincere hope that this distraction can finally be put to rest, and the Khachatryan Family can now have the peace of mind they deserve," Wernick said.

The saga with the mansion began in 2011. That's when, according to the government, a trust benefiting Khachatryan’s sons purchased the property for $14.4 million with funds provided by a prominent Armenian businessman.

At the time, Khachatryan was the most senior official in charge of taxes and customs in the Republic of Armenia.

Khachatryan’s sons said the funds were provided as loans by the businessman, Sedrak Arustamyan. According to the government, the loans were repeatedly extended without repayment, as covers for bribe payments.

Wernick said the brothers had previously invested in real estate in the L.A. area, and the mansion on South Mapleton Drive was the fourth property they had purchased and were developing.

Soon after buying the home — previously owned by Lions Gate Entertainment Chief Executive Jon Feltheimer — the family razed the property and hired Richard Landry, a mega-mansion architect who has built trophy estates for celebrities including Mark Wahlberg, Tom Brady and Wayne Gretzky.

Khachatryan’s sons told Landry’s design team that they wanted their children to attend school in L.A. and instructed the team to envision the home as their family’s residence, according to court filings.

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In 2016, when Khachatryan left office, the alleged bribery scheme came to light and authorities discovered millions of dollars in unpaid taxes owed by Arustamyan's companies, according to prosecutors. In 2019, Khachatryan was charged with abuse of power and embezzlement. His sons and Arustamyan were charged in 2020.

Wernick said the brothers and their father are "engaged in ongoing discussions with the Armenian government to resolve that matter and hopefully get it dismissed."

The Holmby Hills property went on the market April 7, 2022, with real estate agency Hilton & Hyland heralding its “immaculate architecture, manicured landscaping, and your chance to completely customize the interiors.” It was relisted last year for more than $20 million below the 2022 asking price.

"Unfortunately this litigation cast a cloud over the property itself," Wernick said. "Hopefully with this resolution it will remove some uncertainty around the property."

The Altman Brothers listing describes "Le Chateau de Mapleton," as "an exquisite estate of architectural excellence, poised to become a timeless masterpiece."

According to the listing, the house includes a lounge, billiard room, poker room, movie theater, gym, wine lounge, two-story library, steam room, massage room, salon, spa lounge, multiple bars, indoor and outdoor pools and a garage for eight or more cars.

The Altman Brothers did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

L.A's "mansion tax," which took effect last year, could mean the government will take a hit on the sale.

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The transfer tax, formally known as Measure ULA, levies a 4% charge on all property sales above $5 million and a 5.5% charge on sales above $10 million, with proceeds funding affordable housing and homelessness initiatives.

Wernick said the brothers agreed to share proceeds from a future sale of the property with the Republic of Armenia.

"It's been a long affair, but the brothers are very happy with this outcome and that we can finally get this behind us," Wernick said.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.