Fugitives in LA COVID relief fraud scheme captured in Montenegro
Three members of an Encino-based fraud ring who went on the lam after being convicted of stealing more than $18 million in COVID-19 relief loans have been captured in Montenegro, a senior law enforcement source told City News Service Wednesday.
Ringleader Richard Ayvazyan, 43, and his wife and co-defendant Marietta Terabelian, 37, have been missing since Aug. 29. The Encino couple had been convicted at trial, but were granted release to await sentencing.
Tamara Dadyan, 42, an Encino real estate broker, was sentenced in December to nearly 11 years in prison for her role in the eight-member family fraud ring, but was allowed to remain free pending her Jan. 28 surrender to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons. She apparently dropped out of sight just before she was due to turn herself in last month.
Federal authorities did not immediately respond to requests for comment and details of the apprehension were not available.
The present status of the three fugitives was also not clear. Unlike its neighbors, Serbia and Croatia, Montenegro does not have an extradition treaty with the United States.
A call to Dadyan’s attorney seeking comment was not immediately returned.
Law enforcement officials — who had posted a $20,000 reward for information leading to the couple’s arrest — believed Ayvazyan and Terabelian were traveling together.
The defendants submitted more than 150 phony loan applications under which they obtained more than $18 million in Paycheck Protection and Economic Injury Disaster Loan program funds, which were used to make down payments on homes in Tarzana, Glendale and Palm Desert, and to buy gold coins, diamonds, jewelry, expensive watches, imported furnishings, designer handbags, clothing, and a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.
Dadyan pleaded guilty to one federal count each of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering, and aggravated identity theft. She later asked the judge to be allowed to withdraw her plea, but the request was denied.
Federal authorities believe Ayvazyan and his wife, facing the possibility of years behind bars, removed their location monitoring devices, left a note for their children, and absconded together from their Encino home. The following day, a Los Angeles judge signed bench warrants for their arrest.
Ayvazyan was sentenced in absentia to 17 years in federal prison and his wife was handed a six-year term, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The couple 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 identity theft.
Prior to the verdict in the Ayvazyan trial, four relatives pleaded guilty to criminal charges in the case.