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Couple convicted of Covid rescue fraud are on the run, FBI says

 | Breaking News Updates

Couple convicted of Covid rescue fraud are on the run, FBI says

| Breaking News Updates | Local News

When the Covid-19 pandemic began last year, a man in Southern California recruited his brother, wife and many others to use the identities of elderly people, foreign students who had left the country and deceased parents to seek $ 20 million in federal aid. funds, authorities said.

The man, Richard Ayvazyan, 43, bought a $ 3.25 million mansion and filled it with gold coins, luxury watches and imported furniture using stolen funds from aid to the victims of Covid-19, California federal prosecutors have said.

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

In August, while awaiting sentencing at their San Fernando Valley home, Mr. Ayvazyan and Ms. Terabelian removed their surveillance bracelets and fled, according to the FBI. They left their children behind, according to federal prosecutors.

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

In Monday’s hearing, Judge Stephen V. Wilson of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California said he had no recollection of a fraud case committed so “ruthlessly and intentionally without any respect. for the law ”and described Mr. Ayvazyan as“ an endemic and heartless fraudster ”.

Mr Ayvazyan’s attorney, Ashwin J. Ram, said his client’s family believed the couple had been kidnapped but authorities had made no serious effort to investigate the complaint.

“There are dozens of people who are potentially at risk,” Ram said. “My fear was that someone would want to silence my client.”

Mr Ram said a one-sided photo of Mr Ayvazyan was presented during the sentencing.

“The purpose of sentencing is not whether a crime has been committed,” he said. “The purpose of the punishment is what is just punishment in this case.”

Mr. Ayvazyan’s background as a practitioner, father and prominent member of the Armenian community in Southern California who invested in small start-ups was not discussed at the hearing.

“This story was not told during the sentencing because he was not there,” said the lawyer. According to Mr Ram, the couple have three children, aged 13, 15 and 16, who live with their grandparents.

Prosecutors said in court documents that Mr. Ayvazyan left a typed letter for their children explaining that they had to flee because he had put “danger and fear” in their lives.

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

Mr Ayvazyan had a history of loan fraud, according to a sentencing memorandum filed by prosecutors.

He pleaded guilty to conspiring with Ms Terabelian to fraudulently obtain a line of credit and was charged with conspiring to use stolen identities to secure mortgages and green loans for real estate projects environmentally friendly, the memo reads.

Ryan Fraser, an attorney for Ms Terabelian, described her as a “loving mother and dedicated wife who tirelessly supported not only her three children, but also her parents, stepmother and sister.”

Mr. Fraser noted that Justice Wilson had sentenced Ms. Terabelian to “less than a third of the length” requested by prosecutors. They asked for 21 years in prison.

Mr Ayvazyan started stealing disaster relief funds as soon as they became available in March 2020, according to prosecutors’ note.

In messages to his co-conspirators, he joked that the federal government would be strapped for cash and told them to act quickly to get the funds.

“This program is finished 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 on the basis of guidelines based on the theft of around $ 1.5 million from the government. He added that he did not believe that prosecutors had proven that Mr. Ayvazyan himself stole anyone’s identity.

The government “was giving out money without checks and a lot of people took advantage of it,” Ram said.

“It’s a honey trap,” he added. “Richard Ayvazyan fell into this trap.”

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

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