Richard Ayvazyan and his wife, Marietta Terabelian, were facing jail for their role in a massive covid-19 aid fraud scheme when their electronic tracking bracelets were cut off and they fled their California home, abandoning her three teenage children.
The couple left a typewritten note for the children, ages 13, 15, and 16.
“Someday we will get back together,” he said, according to Ayvazyan’s lawyer. “This is not a farewell, but a brief separation.”
This was at the end of August. Almost three months later, and five months after their convictions in June, the couple has yet to appear. The FBI is looking for them.
That did not stop a judge this week from sentencing Ayvazyan, 43, and Terabelian, 37, in absentia, to 17 and six years in prison, respectively. Prosecutors said the couple and others carried out a plan to steal more than $ 20 million in aid funds earmarked for small businesses during the pandemic.
“The defendants used the Covid-19 crisis to steal millions of dollars in much-needed government aid to individuals and businesses suffering the economic effects of the worst pandemic in a century,” said US Attorney Tracy L. Wilkison.
Stolen money fueled a lavish lifestyle
The couple and Ayvazyan’s brother, Artur Ayvazyan, 41, were found guilty of conspiracy to commit bank fraud, wire fraud, and money laundering in a trial in June. Richard Ayvazyan and his brother were also convicted of aggravated identity theft.
According to court documents and evidence presented at trial, they used false or stolen identities, including names of deceased individuals and foreign exchange students who briefly visited the U.S. years ago, to submit fraudulent applications for approximately 150 federal aid loans. the pandemic for fictitious businesses in the San Fernando Valley.
To back up the fraudulent loan applications, they submitted false identity documents along with falsified tax forms and payroll records to lenders and the Small Business Administration, federal prosecutors said.
The couple, along with Ayvazyan’s brother and five co-conspirators, used the money to buy mansions in three Southern California cities: Tarzana, Glendale, and Palm Desert, gold coins, diamonds, furniture, luxury watches, and a Harley motorcycle. Davidson, prosecutors said.
When convicted, they had to give up three houses and luxury items, as well as bank accounts and about $ 450,000 in cash.
“When our nation was at its most vulnerable, these individuals thought only of lining their pockets,” said Ryan L. Korner, a special agent with the IRS Office of Criminal Investigation, after this week’s sentencing. “These sentences reflect the seriousness of these crimes.”
It is unclear if Richard Ayvazyan was the mastermind behind the scheme, but of the eight people convicted so far, he was by far the one who received the longest sentence: 17 years. No one was sentenced to more than six years. His brother Artur Ayvazyan received five years.
In Monday’s sentencing, US District Judge Stephen V. Wilson called Richard Ayvazyan an “endemic, cold-hearted, lawless fraudster” and someone who “views fraud as an achievement.”
The couple’s three children were in the courtroom to witness the sentencing of their parents and uncle.
Ayvazyan’s lawyer says there is more behind
The whereabouts of Richard Ayvazyan and Marietta Terabelian remain unknown. The FBI is offering a $ 20,000 reward for information leading to his arrest.
Ashwin J. Ram, a lawyer for the older Ayvazyan, said prosecutors painted an exaggerated picture of his client’s involvement.
“You have to keep in mind that the government has repeatedly touted that this is an $ 18 million or $ 20 million cases, depending on the day and who you are talking about,” Ram told CNN. “At the sentencing hearing, however, the court found that Richard Ayvazyan is only responsible for several losses in the range of $ 1.5 million. That is far from the government’s theory of the case.”
Ram said he has not spoken to Ayvazyan since he fled in August. You believe that if your client had been in court, he would have explained his side of the story.
“It was regrettable that Mr. Ayvazyan was not present to paint the whole picture for the court,” he said. “That would have shed light on his background and experience, including his role as a community leader, providential investor, father, and husband.”
Ram also said the couple’s family believes they may have been abducted by other co-conspirators.
“He (Ayvazyan) was charged with conspiring with dozens of people, and only a few have been charged. So if he is the ringleader, someone may want to silence him.”
Ram added that, in addition to the message to their children, the couple’s farewell note also referred to the threats they face: “something like they are leaving to avoid the danger it poses to the family.”
Ram asked the government to investigate.
Terabelian’s attorney, Ryan Fraser, described her to CNN as “a loving mother and devoted wife who has tirelessly supported not only her three children but also their parents, mother-in-law, and sister.” He added that “Judge Wilson recognized this in his sentence, imposing significantly less than a third of the time that the prosecutors requested in their resolution.”
Fraser declined to answer further questions about his client or the fraudulent loan plot.
Information about Artur Ayvazyan’s lawyer was not immediately available.
The children’s guardians hoped to send them to Armenia
The couple’s three children are in the care of their grandmothers and a court-appointed guardian, Ram said.
Ram claims that her caregivers recently submitted an emergency application for passports so they can travel to Armenia, where they have relatives.
The guardians had hoped to send the children to Armenia to avoid the media circus surrounding their parents’ sentencing, but the passports were not approved, he said.
Ram also said that he had objected to the court sentencing Richard Ayvazyan and Terabelian in absentia, adding that he wanted the hearing delayed until they appeared.
Five other South Californians, including Artur Ayvazyan’s wife, have pleaded guilty to various charges in the case. Four of them have been sentenced to terms ranging from probation to six years in prison.
Artur Ayvazyan’s wife will be sentenced on December 6, but the judge has not yet ruled on the request to withdraw her guilty plea.