A husband and wife who led one of the most brazen pandemic fraud rings revealed to date were extradited from Montenegro late Thursday and will face a federal judge in Los Angeles on Friday.
Richard Ayvazyan and Marietta Terabelian had gone to trial and were convicted of their part in the $20 million fraud scheme, but skipped the country before the California couple could be sentenced and jailed. They were on the run for 14 months before being brought back.
Prosecutors called their scheme a “horrendous fraud,” saying they were “relentless” in their efforts to steal money. As soon as Congress approved the first pandemic assistance programs in March 2020, they went to work and stole until they were caught seven months later.
And they bragged about it.
“I didn’t sleep all night,” Ayvazyan said in one revealing text. “I was working 24 hours straight.”
They stole the identities of foreign exchange students and dead people. In one instance they waited just three days after Terabelian’s father’s death to file an application in his name. They also fabricated “synthetic” identities.
Authorities appear to have been tipped to the scheme when the couple returned from a trip to Turks and Caicos Islands in October 2020. Customs and Border Protection officers found bogus identity documents and figured something was up.
As they began to unwind the scheme from there, they found homes, gold coins, expensive watches and bags of cash they tied back to the couple.
Raiding one home, they found plastic bags with more than $451,000 in cash in the bushes.
After trial and conviction, the government had asked a judge to hold the couple in custody pending sentencing. But they insisted they weren’t going anywhere, pointing to their ties to “family, children, church and business relationships.”
The judge released them and they immediately began stalling, refusing to meet with their probation officer or reveal their finances. After the court rejected their request to overturn the verdict, Ayvazyan’s ankle monitor went offline on Aug. 25, 2021.
Prosecutors said they “abandoned” their children during their flight from the law.
Ayvazyan was sentenced in absentia to 17 years in prison, and Terabelian was sentenced to six.