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California: Couple vanished after stealing millions in Covid-19 relief funds

A California couple who fled before sentencing in a $20 million COVID-19 relief fraud case will face years in prison when they are recaptured, federal officials say.

U.S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson sentenced Richard Ayvazyan, 43, to 17 years in prison and Marietta Terabelian, 37, to six years in prison on Monday, Nov. 15, for their roles in the scam, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Central California said in a news release.

Ayvazyan and Terabelian cut off their ankle monitors and fled their home in August after being convicted in June, McClatchy News reported. They remain missing.

Wilson also sentenced Artur Ayvazyan, 41, Richard’s brother, who had not fled, to five years in prison, the release said. Four others convicted in the scam were sentenced earlier.

The scammers fraudulently obtained more than $20 million in Paycheck Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster Loan funds intended for COVID-19 relief, prosecutors said.

They used fake or stolen identities to apply for 150 loans and used the money to buy luxurious homes in Tarzana, Glendale and Palm Desert, along with gold coins, diamonds, jewelry, luxury watches, imported furnishings, designer handbags and a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

“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 K. Johnson, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office.

The judge said the scam was conducted in a “callous, intentional way without any regard for the law,” according to the release. He called Richard Ayvazyan “an endemic, cold-hearted fraudster with no regard for the law” who “views fraud as an achievement.” A reward of up to $20,000 has been offered by the FBI for information leading the recapture of Ayvazyan and Terabelian, the release said.

They used fake or stolen identities to apply for 150 loans and used the money to buy luxurious homes in Tarzana, Glendale and Palm Desert, along with gold coins, diamonds, jewelry, luxury watches, imported furnishings, designer handbags and a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

“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 K. Johnson, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office.

The judge said the scam was conducted in a “callous, intentional way without any regard for the law,” according to the release. He called Richard Ayvazyan “an endemic, cold-hearted fraudster with no regard for the law” who “views fraud as an achievement.”

A reward of up to $20,000 has been offered by the FBI for information leading the recapture of Ayvazyan and Terabelian, the release said.

A Federal Trade Commission found more than 270,000 cases of COVID-19 relief fraud, with $588 million lost to all forms of COVID-19 relief fraud.

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