The Couple That Swindles $18M in Covid Relief Funds and Ditches Their Kids Together, Stays Together

“This is not a goodbye but a brief break from each other,” they wrote their children in a farewell note before vanishing

Left: Richard Ayvazyan. Right: Marietta Terabelian.
Richard Ayvazyan and Marietta Terabelian. Photos: Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images.
Family Fraud

One couple that will probably not be winning any Parent of the Year awards are convicted COVID swindlers Richard Ayvazyan and Marietta Terabelian, who allegedly cut off their electronic monitoring bracelets and abandoned their three teenage children in August to go on the run while awaiting sentencing for their crimes.

“We will be together again one day,” the pair wrote in the note they left behind for their children in Tarzana, California in August, the Los Angeles Times reports. “This is not a goodbye but a brief break from each other.”

That “one day” has evidently not yet arrived. Now, nearly three months after their conscious uncoupling from their kids, Ayvazyan and Terebelian are still fugitives at large. Despite their absence, they were unable to avoid being sentenced by a district judge, who on November 16 doled out six years of prison time for Terebelian,17 years for Ayvazyan, and five years for his brother Artur Ayvazyan for swindling more than $18 million in COVID-19 government relief funds meant for small businesses impacted by the pandemic. Four others involved in the scheme were sentenced in previous months; one more is scheduled to be sentenced in December.

The grifters apparently used fake, stolen, and synthetic (in which real and fake identifying information are Frankensteined together) identities — including the names of elderly people, dead people, and foreign exchange students who are no longer in the U.S. — to submit fraudulent applications for around 150 Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) loans, while also falsifying all the official documents like identity, tax, and payroll records that go with applications. According to the U.S. attorney’s office, the fraudsters used the funds to put down down payments on luxury homes, and to buy gold coins, diamonds, jewelry, watches, furniture, designer handbags, clothes, and a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

The New York Times reports that Ayvazyan, the ringleader of the group, began stealing the disaster-relief funds as early as March 2020, per the prosecutors’ memo. “The program is over by end of the month so get as much as you can,” he allegedly messaged his co-conspirators.

The judge presiding over the sentencing, Stephen V. Wilson, said he couldn’t recall a fraud case carried out in such a “callous, intentional way without any regard for the law.” He described Ayvazyan as “an endemic, cold-hearted fraudster” who “views fraud as an achievement.”

The couple’s three children — aged 13, 15, and 16 — were “visibly distraught” in the courtroom at their absentee parents’ sentencing, per the LA Times. They are currently staying with their grandparents. Ayvazyan’s lawyer, Ashwin J. Ram, has put forth the idea that husband and wife were kidnapped to prevent them from snitching on unindicted co-conspirators. In the letter that the parents left for their kids, Ayvazyan mentioned that they had to flee because he had brought “danger and fear” to their lives,” the New York Times reports.

But the court responded that there is no evidence of abduction. Judge Wilson, addressing the theory in court, noted that the government had blocked an emergency application for passports for the children to travel to Armenia, where they have other family. Wilson said that the attempt to get their kids out of the country suggested that Ayvazyan and Terebelian were “not going to willingly appear” in court, per the LA Times.

The FBI is offering a reward of up to $20,000 for any information leading to the couple’s arrest.