Fugitive California couple sentenced in absentia in multimillion-dollar coronavirus fraud scheme

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A fugitive couple from Los Angeles were sentenced in absentia this week, accused in a more than $20 million coronavirus-relief fraud scheme.

Defendant Richard Ayvazyan, 43, was sentenced to 17 years in prison and his wife, Marietta Terabelian, 37, was sentenced to six years. 

The San Fernando Valley couple has been on the run after having allegedly cut their ankle monitors since their June conviction in the fraud scheme involving Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) COVID relief funds, according to the FBI. 

Artur Ayvazyan, 41, brother of Richard Ayvazyan, was present at the sentencing and ordered to serve five years in prison for his role in the scheme, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California.

U.S. District Judge Steven Wilson said it was one of the most “callous” fraud cases he’d ever seen. describing Richard Ayvazyan as “an endemic, cold-hearted fraudster with no regard for the law” who “views fraud as an achievement.”

The three fraudulently applied for around 150 pandemic loans meant to help small businesses using fake and stolen IDs, including those from the dead, elderly and former foreign exchange students, according to KTLA-TV in Los Angeles. 

“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 U.S. Attorney Tracy Wilkison. “These sentences reflect our office’s determination to root out and punish wrongdoers who use national emergencies to defraud the government and the American taxpayer.”

They made down payments on luxury homes in Southern California and bought “gold coins, diamonds, jewelry, luxury watches, fine imported furnishings, designer handbags, clothing, and a Harley-Davidson motorcycle,” with the stolen money, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.

“The defendants lived a lavish lifestyle by defrauding the government at the expense of small businesses and American taxpayers already facing financial and pandemic-related hardship,” said Kristi Johnson, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office. “The FBI is actively investigating the whereabouts of fugitives Terabelian and Ayvazyan and will pursue them until they are taken into custody to pay for their crimes.”

The FBI is offering a $20,000 reward for information leading to the couple’s arrest. 

The three were found guilty on June 25 of one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and wire fraud, 11 counts of wire fraud, eight counts of bank fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. Richard and Artur Ayvazyan were also convicted of aggravated identity theft.

Four others have already been sentenced in the case. 

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