Three family members charged with take off their tracking bracelets and go on the run after being convicted in an $18 million COVID-19 relief fraud case have been captured in Montenegro, federal authorities said on Wednesday.
Richard Ayvazyan, 43, his wife and co-defendant Marietta Terabelian, 37, and his sister-in-law Tamara Dadyan, 42, were arrested in the small mountainous country in southeastern Europe on Tuesday, NBC News reported.
They have been missing since August 29.
The three were among eight family members convicted of stealing more than $18 million in COVID relief loans and using the money for lavish spending, like down payments on luxury homes, designer handbags, clothing and a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.
It was not immediately clear how their extradition to the United States might proceed.
the FBI had no immediate comment.
The bizarre story has been from the start.
In November 2021the Ayvazyan and Terabelian couple were sentenced by the court despite a no-show, which their family say was due to them being abducted – apparently to prevent them from disclosing the identities of the accomplices who are not charged , according to court documents.
The FBI, however, said the married couple, faced with the possibility of spending years behind bars, removed their location-tracking devices, left a note for their children and fled their Encino home together. The next day, a Los Angeles judge signed warrants for their arrest.
In November, Ayvazyan was sentenced to 17 years in federal prison and his wife to six years, according to the US Attorney’s Office. Ayvazyan was the alleged mastermind behind the criminal network.
The couple and two relatives were convicted in June 2021 of conspiring to submit fraudulent loan applications under which they and others obtained more than $18 million in Paycheck Protection Program funds and disaster loans, which they used to make down payments on luxury homes in Tarzana, Glendale and Palm Desert, and to purchase other high-end items such as gold coins, diamonds, jewelry, luxury watches, imported furniture, designer handbags, clothing and a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.
Ayvazyan “victimized elderly people (including people with disabilities), deceased people and foreign students who had only spent a few months in the United States years ago and now lived thousands of miles away in a country stranger,” prosecutors wrote.
The defendants were convicted of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and wire fraud, wire fraud, bank fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering.
Ayvazyan was also found guilty of aggravated impersonation.
The federal jury in Los Angeles determined that the defendants should forfeit bank accounts, jewelry, watches, gold coins, three homes and approximately $450,000 in cash, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.
Evidence showed that the defendants used fake or stolen identities to submit fraudulent loan applications. To support the claims, the defendants also submitted false documents to the lenders and the Small Business Administration, including false identification documents, tax documents and payroll records, prosecutors said.
Ahead of the verdict, four accomplices pleaded guilty to criminal charges in the case.