By SDCN Staff
A California couple who fled to Montenegro to avoid serving lengthy prison sentences has been returned to the United States after approximately one year and two months as fugitives, prosecutors said.
Richard Ayvazyan, 44, and his wife, Marietta Terabelian, 38, were extradited by Montenegro and arrived in Los Angeles Thursday night. They appeared in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles Friday afternoon.
In June 2021, Ayvazyan and Terabelian were convicted by a federal jury of leading a conspiracy to fraudulently obtain over $20 million in COVID-19 relief funds. After the trial, Ayvazyan and Terabelian fled the United States. In November 2021, they were sentenced in absentia. Ayvazyan was sentenced to 17 years in prison, and Terabelian was sentenced to six years in prison. U.S. authorities later determined the couple had fled to Montenegro.
According to court documents and evidence presented at trial, Ayvazyan and Terabelian were members of a Los Angeles-based fraud ring who engaged in a scheme to fraudulently obtain more than $20 million in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) COVID-19 relief funds. Ayvazyan and Terabelian used dozens of fake, stolen, or synthetic identities – including names belonging to elderly or deceased people and foreign exchange students who briefly visited the United States years ago and never returned – to submit fraudulent applications for approximately 150 PPP and EIDL loans.
In support of the fraudulent loan applications, Ayvazyan and Terabelian also submitted false and fictitious documents to lenders and the Small Business Administration (SBA), including fake identity documents, tax documents, and payroll records. Ayvazyan and Terabelian then used the fraudulently obtained funds as down payments on three luxury homes in California. They also used the funds to buy gold coins, diamonds, jewelry, luxury watches, fine imported furnishings, designer handbags, clothing, and a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.
The Government of Montenegro, including the Ministry of Justice, provided significant assistance in the extradition of Ayvazyan and Terabelian to the United States. The Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs also provided substantial assistance in securing the arrest and extradition of Ayvazyan and Terabelian.
The FBI Los Angeles Field Office, IRS, SBA, and Office of Attorney General investigated the case. The U.S. Marshals Service transported Ayvazyan and Terabelian from Montenegro to the United States.