Richard Ayvazyan and his wife, Marietta Terabelian, were facing prison for their role in a massive covid relief fraud scheme when they cut off their electronic tracking bracelets and fled their California home, abandoning their three teenage children.They left a typewritten note for the kids, ages 13, 15 and 16.”We will be together again one day,” it read, according to Ayvazyan’s attorney. “This is not a goodbye but a brief break from each other.”
This was late August. Almost three months later — and five months after their convictions in June — the couple still have not been found. The FBI is searching for them.
That didn’t stop a judge this week from sentencing Ayvazyan, 43, and Terabelian, 37, in absentia to 17 and six years in prison, respectively. Prosecutors said they and others carried out a scheme to steal more than $20 million in relief funds intended for small businesses during the pandemic.
“The defendants used the COVID-19 crisis to steal millions of dollars in much-needed government aid intended for people and businesses suffering from the economic effects of the worst pandemic in a century,” said US Attorney Tracy L. Wilkison.Another federal prosecutor said their case was the first of its kind in the nation to go to trial.
The couple and Ayvazyan’s brother, Artur Ayvazyan, 41, were found guilty of conspiracy to commit bank fraud, wire fraud and money laundering at a trial in June. Richard Ayvazyan and his brother were also convicted of aggravated identity theft.According to court documents and evidence presented at trial, they used fake or stolen identities — including the names of dead people and foreign exchange students who briefly visited the US years ago — to submit fraudulent applications for approximately 150 federal pandemic relief loans for sham businesses in San Fernando Valley.To support the fraudulent loan applications, they submitted fake identity documents along with falsified tax forms and payroll records to lenders and the Small Business Administration, federal prosecutors said.The couple, along with Ayvazyan’s brother and five co-conspirators, used the money to buy mansions in three Southern California cities — Tarzana, Glendale and Palm Desert — along with gold coins, diamonds, furniture, luxury watches and a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, prosecutors said.