FBI says couple convicted of Covid relief fraud are on the run

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FBI says couple convicted of Covid relief fraud are on the run

When the Covid-19 pandemic began last year, a Southern California man recruited his brother, his wife, and several others to use the identities of older people, forex students, who raised $20 million in federal relief. Had left the country and deceased relatives to apply for. money, officials said.

Federal prosecutors in California said 43-year-old Richard Ayvazian bought a $3.25 million mansion and filled it using stolen COVID-19 disaster-relief funds from gold coins, luxury watches and imported furniture.

In June, Mr. Ayvazhyan; his wife, Marietta Terabellian, 37; And Artur Ayvazyan, Mr. Ayvazyan’s brother, was convicted of conspiracy to fraudulently obtain money for people and businesses that suffered economic losses as a result of the pandemic.

In August, as they await sentencing at their home in the San Fernando Valley, Mr. Ayvazian and Ms. Terabelian removed their bracelet monitors and fled, leaving their children behind according to federal prosecutors, according to the FBI.

On Monday, both were sentenced in absentia. Mr. Ayvazyan was sentenced to 17 years in prison and his wife to six years. Artur Ayvazyan, 41, was sentenced to five years in prison.

During Monday’s hearing, Judge Stephen V. Wilson of the US District Court for the Central District of California said he did not recall a case of fraud committed “in a ruthless, deliberate manner” “regardless of the law”. can do. Ayvazyan as “an endemic, cold-hearted deceiver”.

Mr. Ayvazyan’s lawyer Ashwin J. Ram said his client’s family believed the couple was abducted, but the authorities made no serious effort to investigate the claim.

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“There are dozens of people who are potentially at risk,” Mr. Ram said. “I was afraid that someone might want to silence my client.”

Mr. Ram said a one-sided picture of Mr. Ayvazyan was presented at the time of sentencing.

“The whole point of punishing is not whether a crime has been committed,” he said. “The point of punishment is what is just punishment in this case.”

Mr. Ayvazian’s background as a churchgoer, a father and a prominent member of the Armenian community in Southern California, who had invested in small start-ups, did not come to the hearing.

“That story was not told at the time of sentencing as he was not there,” the lawyer said. According to Sri Ram, the couple has three children aged 13, 15 and 16, who are living with their grandparents.

Prosecutors said in court filings that Mr. Ayvazyan had left a typed letter for his children saying they had to flee because he had brought “danger and fear” to their lives.

“We will be together again,” he wrote, according to a copy of the letter. “I’ll find a way, that’s a promise.”

According to the sentencing memo filed by the prosecution, Mr. Ayvazyan has a history of loan fraud.

The memo said he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to fraudulently obtain a line of credit with Ms. Terabillion and conspiracy to use stolen identities to secure mortgage loans and green loans for eco-friendly home projects. accused of creating

FBI. According to Ms. Terabellian worked in a children’s hair salon

Mr Fraser noted that Judge Wilson sentenced Ms Terabillion to “less than a third of the time” that prosecutors had sought. He demanded 21 years in jail.

According to a memo from prosecutors, Mr. Ayvazyan began stealing as soon as disaster-relief funds became available in March 2020.

In messages to his co-conspirators, he jokingly said that the federal government would not have the money and asked them to move quickly to get the money.

“This program ends by the end of the month, so get as much as you can,” he wrote according to the memo.

Mr. Ram said the court sentenced Mr. Ayvazyan based on the guidelines on theft of about $1.5 million from the government. He said he did not believe prosecutors had proved Mr. Ayvazyan himself stole someone’s identity.

The government was “giving money without cheques and many people took advantage of it,” Mr. Ram said.

“It’s a honey trap,” he said. “Richard Ayvazyan fell into that trap.”

The FBI said it was offering a $20,000 reward for anyone providing information that could lead to the couple’s arrest.

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