Richard Ayvazyan and Marietta Terabelian were sentenced by a California judge for their $21 million Covid loan scheme. The couple was sentenced in absentia because they are currently fugitives wanted by the FBI. Last August, they cut off their ankle monitors and federal agents continue to look for them.
Ayvazyan received 17 years in prison, while Terabelian got six years. Ayvazyan’s brother, Artur, was sentenced to five years in prison for his role in the fraud scheme.
During the sentencing hearing, the prosecution argued that Richard Ayvazyan should have gotten 29 years in prison for his aggressive role in the scheme. That sentencing would have been the longest on record for a federal pandemic loan scheme.
The couple was officially found guilty of their crimes back in June before they removed their tracking devices and disappeared. Their official charges include wire fraud, bank fraud, conspiracy to commit wire and bank fraud, and conspiracy to commit money laundering.
Richard Ayvazyan and his brother were also found guilty of aggravated identity theft.
According to police reports, the three suspects used phony identities, including those of dead people, the elderly, and foreign exchange students that briefly stayed in the U.S., to apply to over 150 federal COVID-19 business relief funds.
By creating false tax documents and payroll stubs, the trio was able to steal roughly $18 million in funds meant for struggling small businesses.
“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,” U.S. Attorney Tracy L. Wilkison said.
Records show that the couple used that money for down payments on luxury houses in Tarzana, Glendale and Palm Desert, Calif., gold coins, diamonds, fancy handbags, high end jewelry and even a Harley Davidson motorcycle.
During their trial, the couple was asked to hand over all the luxury items that they purchased with the stolen money, along with their bank accounts and over $450,000 in cash.
Kristi K. Johnson, assistant director for the FBI’s Los Angeles field office, spoke during Monday’s sentencing and said, “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. 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.”
According to court documents, this is the first Covid loan scheme to go to trial since the start of the pandemic. U.S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson spoke about the fugitives during their fraud hearing.
He said that he couldn’t remember a fraud scheme that was so callous and had no regard for the law. The judge also called Richard Ayvazyan “an endemic, cold-hearted fraudster with no regard for the law,” and who sees fraud as an achievement.
The California couple’s attorneys, Ashwin J. Ram and Ryan Fraser, argued that the couple didn’t run away but instead were abducted and that their family worries for their safety. The prosecution said that there was no evidence to back up those claims.
When the couple went on the run in August they left a note behind for their three teenage children. They said, “We will be together again one day. This is not a goodbye but a brief break from each other.”
Emergency passports for the three children to get to Armenia were recently blocked by the U.S. government. During sentencing, the prosecution argued that this showed that the California couple wasn’t going to turn themselves in and were actively trying to get their family out of the country.
The couple’s location is still unknown. The FBI has offered a $20,000 reward to anyone who can provide information on the whereabouts of the two fugitives.