The FBI is offering a $20,000 reward for information leading to the capture of a Los Angeles couple who are on the run after they were convicted in a multimillion-dollar COVID-19 relief scheme, according to published reports.
Richard Ayvazyan, 43, and his wife and co-defendant, 37-year-old Marietta Terabelian, were convicted in June for trying to steal more than $20 million in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) COVID-19 relief funds, according to a press release by the Department of Justice (DOJ).
According to the FBI, while the couple was awaiting sentencing they cut their electronic tracking bracelets in August and have been on the lam, CBS News reported.
On Monday, Judge Stephen Wilson of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California sentenced Ayvazyan in absentia to 17 years in federal prison, and Terabelian six years, according to a statement by the DOJ.
Artur Ayvazyan, 41, Ayvazyan’s brother, who was also involved in the scheme, was sentenced to five years in prison, the DOJ said.
Prosecutors said the defendants used dozens of fake, stolen, or synthetic identities — including names belonging to elderly or deceased people and foreign exchange students who briefly visited the United States years ago and never returned — to submit fraudulent applications for approximately 150 PPP and EIDL loans, the DOJ said in a statement.
Officials said they backed up the applications with fake and fictitious documents lenders and the Small Business Administration (SBA), including fake identity documents, tax documents, and payroll records, the DOJ stated.
The couple used the fraudulent money to put down payments on luxury homes in Tarzana, Glendale and Palm Desert. They also used the funds to purchase gold coins, diamonds, jewelry, luxury watches, imported furnishings, designer handbags, clothing and a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, the U.S. Attorney’s office said.
During the sentencing hearing, U.S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson said he couldn’t recall a fraud case conducted in such a “callous, intentional way without any regard for the law,” the U.S. attorney’s office said, CBS reported.
Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, said: “The defendants engaged in a scheme to steal critical relief funds intended to assist small businesses during the pandemic,” he said. “This case, involving an egregious example of pandemic relief fraud, was the was the first in the country to go to trial.”
Polite added: “The DOJ, along with our law enforcement partners, will continue to use every available tool to combat and prevent criminals from exploiting national emergencies for their personal benefit.”
Previously, Judge Wilson sentenced other members of the Los Angeles-based fraud ring, including Manuk Grigoryan, 28, of Sun Valley, to six years in prison on Oct. 25; Edvard Paronyan, 41, of Granada Hills, to 30 months in prison on Sept. 27; Vahe Dadyan, 42, of Glendale, to one year and one day in prison on Oct. 18; and Arman Hayrapetyan, 39, of Glendale, to 10 months of probation on Oct. 18. Tamara Dadyan, 42, of Encino, is scheduled to be sentenced on Dec. 6.
The family of the fugitives said they believe they were kidnapped, according to court documents. A judge has rejected the theory, writing in an order that there was no evidence to suggest they were taken by force, CBS News reported.
The couple both have a number of aliases and have lived in several Los Angeles neighborhoods, including Tarzana, Encino, and North Hills, CBSLA reported.
Ayvazyan, who is originally from Armenia, is described as a white man, 5 feet 10 inches tall, 190 pounds, with black hair and brown eyes. He drives a white Range Rover with a California license plate 7ZAB185 and a white 2004 Toyota Camry with a California license plate 5JYK335.
Terabelian is described as a white woman from Los Angeles, 5 feet 6 inches tall, between 130 and 140 pounds, with brown eyes and brown hair that could be dyed blonde, dark brown, or black. She drives a white Toyota Camry.
Anyone with information about Richard Avyazyan or Marietta Terabelian’s whereabouts or the case is encouraged to contact the Los Angeles FBI office at (310) 477-6565.