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Couple disappears after stealing millions in COVID-19 relief funds

Couple disappears after stealing millions in COVID-19 relief funds (LAPD)
Couple disappears after stealing millions in COVID-19 relief funds (LAPD)
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(WKRC) — A couple is wanted for disappearing just before they were due to be sentenced to serve prison time for stealing millions of dollars in COVID-19 relief funds.

Richard Ayvazyan,43, and his wife, Marietta Terabelian, 37, apparently cut off their electronic tracking bracelets in late August and fled their home, leaving a goodbye note for their three children, ages 13, 15 and 16.

It read, according to Ayvazyan's attorney, "We will be together again one day. This is not a goodbye, but a brief break from each other."

In June, the two were convicted of taking part in a massive COVID-19 relief fraud scheme to steal more than $20 million in relief funds intended for small businesses.

They, along with the husband's brother, 41-year-old Artur Ayvazyan, were found guilty of conspiracy to commit bank fraud, wire fraud and money laundering. The brothers were also charged with aggravated identity theft.

Richard Ayvazyan was sentenced to 17 years in prison, Artur Ayvazyan to five, and Terabelian to six.

One federal prosecutor said their case was the first of its kind in the nation to go to trial.

According to court documents, they used fake or stolen identities to submit fraudulent applications for approximately 150 federal pandemic relief loans for sham businesses in San Fernando Valley.

They also provided falsified tax forms and payroll records to lenders and the Small Business Administration.

The brothers, Terabelian, and five other co-conspirators apparently used the money to buy mansions, gold coins, diamonds, furniture, luxury watches, and a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

"When our nation was at its most vulnerable, these individuals thought only about lining their own pockets," said Ryan L. Korner, a special agent in the IRS's Criminal Investigation Office. "These sentences reflect the seriousness of these crimes."

The couple's location is still unknown, and the FBI is offering a $20,000 reward for information leading to their arrest.

Ashwin J. Ram, one of Richard Ayvazyan's attorneys, says their families believe they may have been kidnapped by their co-conspirators.

"He has been accused of conspiring with dozens of people, and only a few have been charged," said Ram. "So, if he is really the ringleader, somebody out there may want to silence him."

Ram also said that the farewell notes they left allude to some sort of danger, and that they mention "something about they're leaving to avoid the danger being posed to the family."

Terabelian's attorney, Ryan Fraser, described her as "a loving mother and devoted wife who has tirelessly supported not only her three children, but also her parents, mother-in-law, and sister."

Their three children are under the care of their grandmothers and a court-appointed guardian, Ram said.

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Apparently, the caregivers recently filed an emergency application for passports for the kids for them to travel to Armenia, where they have relatives, in order to keep them away from the media attention.

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