L.A. COVID Scam Couple Busted on the Lam in Montenegro

After nearly a year spent evading law enforcement, the married fugitives were captured in the Balkans

A Tarzana couple who had been on the run since they were indicted on federal charges for masterminding an $18 million COVID relief scam last June were captured in Montenegro, the U.S. Department of Justice announced Wednesday.

Richard Ayvazyan, 43, and his wife, Marietta Terabelian, 37, cut off their monitoring bracelets and fled the country after they were found guilty of scamming a fortune in emergency pandemic loans meant for small businesses. Ayvazyan was sentenced in absentia to 17 years while Terabelian caught a six-year rap. Also nabbed in the Balkan getaway was Ayvazyan’s sister-in-law, Tamara Dadyan, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Dadyan, the wife of Ayvazyan’s younger brother, blew town on January 28 after a U.S. District Court judge gave her 30 days to turn herself in—a decision that was met with consternation by federal prosecutors, who said they didn’t believe she would ever surrender. Dadyan had been sentenced to 10 years and 10 months in prison.

The criminal trio are among eight convicted conspirators who filed 151 fraudulent loans that were intended to keep small businesses afloat during the lockdowns of the the early pandemic days, authorities said.

The familial fraudsters created fake businesses to get the loans, attaching fake payrolls and forged tax returns to the applications, the Times reports. Opening bank accounts for those businesses was no problem—the scammers just used the names of people whose identities had been stolen.

The grifters were not shy about enjoying their stolen loot, feds say. In June 2020, Ayvazyan and Terabelian dropped $640,000 on a $3.25-million hillside Mediterranean-style villa in Tarzana. When federal agents raided the 2.6-acre estate in November 2020, Terabelian, who was out on bail, ran out the back door and tossed a grocery bag into the bushes. It contained $450,000 in stacked cash.

At the Encino home of Dadyan and her husband, Artur Ayvazyan, FBI agents discovered fake IDs, credit cards for their sham businesses, checkbooks in the names of fraudulent loan applicants, along with notary stamps and seals belonging to state and federal courts.

Sentenced to five years in prison, Artur Ayvazyan surrendered to authorities on January 28—the same day his wife disappeared.

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