LOS ANGELES (CNS) — A San Fernando Valley couple accused of removing their tracking bracelets and going on the lam after they were convicted in an $18 million COVID-19 relief fraud case was sentenced to federal prison despite their non-appearance in court on Monday, Nov. 15.
Richard Ayvazyan, 43, and his wife and co-defendant Marietta Terabelian, 37, have been missing since Aug. 29.
Federal authorities believe the married couple, facing the possibility of years behind bars, removed their location monitoring devices, left a note for their children, and absconded together from their Encino home. The following day, a Los Angeles judge signed bench warrants for their arrest.
Ayvazyan was sentenced to 17 years in federal prison and his wife was handed a six-year term, according to the US Attorney’s Office.
Relatives of the couple contend the pair were kidnapped — apparently to prevent them from disclosing the identities of accomplices who are not indicted, according to court papers.
US District Judge Stephen V. Wilson rejected the theory, finding that Ayvazyan and Terabelian had a motive to flee and there was no evidence to suggest they were taken by force.
Law enforcement believes Ayvazyan and Terabelian are traveling together.
The couple and two relatives were found guilty in June of scheming to submit fraudulent loan applications under which they and others obtained more than $18 million in Paycheck Protection and Economic Injury Disaster Loan program funds, which they used to make down payments on luxury homes in Tarzana, Glendale and Palm Desert, and to buy other high-end items such as gold coins, diamonds, jewelry, luxury watches, imported furnishings, designer handbags, clothing and a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.
Prosecutors argued for sentencing enhancements for the apparent escape from supervision, and because many of the scheme’s victims are considered “vulnerable.”
Ayvazyan “victimized elderly persons (including those with disabilities), deceased persons and foreign exchange students who had spent only a few months in the United States years ago and now lived thousands of miles away in a foreign country,” prosecutors wrote.
The defendants were convicted of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and wire fraud, wire fraud, bank fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering. Ayvazyan was also found guilty of aggravated identity theft.
The Los Angeles federal jury determined the defendants must forfeit bank accounts, jewelry, watches, gold coins, three homes and about $450,000 in cash, according to the US Attorney’s Office.
Evidence showed the defendants used bogus or stolen identities to submit fraudulent applications for the loans. To support the applications, the defendants also submitted sham documents to lenders and the Small Business Administration, including fake identity documents, tax documents and payroll records, prosecutors said.
Prior to the verdict, four accomplices pleaded guilty to criminal charges in the case.
The FBI asks that anyone who has information about the couple call (310) 477-6565.