Fugitive COVID loan scammers sentenced to federal prison
LOS ANGELES (AP) — A Los Angeles couple who were convicted of trying to steal $20 million in COVID-19 relief funds were sentenced to years in federal prison, although they remain fugitives.
Richard Ayvazyan, 43, was sentenced Monday in absentia to 17 years and his wife, Marietta Terabelian, 37, got six years, according to a statement from the U.S. attorney’s office.
Ayvazyan’s brother, Artur Ayvazyan, 41, was sentenced to five years.
Prosecutors said the three Encino residents and others used dozens of phony or stolen identities — including those of elderly or dead people and foreign exchange students who briefly visited the United States — to submit applications for some 150 federal COVID-19 business relief funds.
They backed up the applications with false tax documents, and payroll records, officials said.
Instead of going to struggling businesses during the pandemic, the millions received were used for down payments on luxury homes and to buy “gold coins, diamonds, jewelry, luxury watches, fine imported furnishings, designer handbags, clothing, and a Harley-Davidson motorcycle,” the U.S. attorney’s office said.
During the sentencing hearing, U.S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson said he couldn’t recall a fraud case conducted in such a “callous, intentional way without any regard for the law,” the U.S. attorney’s office said.
In June, Richard Ayvazyan, Terabelian, and Artur Ayvazyan were convicted of conspiracy, bank and wire fraud.
However, Richard Ayvazyan and Terabelian cut their tracking bracelets in August while awaiting sentencing and went on the run, authorities said. The FBI is offering a reward of up to $20,000 for information leading to their arrests.
Four other people have pleaded guilty to various charges in the case. A fifth person awaits sentencing but has asked to withdraw her guilty plea.