A Tarzana couple and a family member who operated a massive COVID-19 relief fraud ring have been captured in Montenegro after fleeing the United States, a law enforcement source confirmed to The Times on Wednesday.
Nicole Navas Oxman, a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Justice, told The Times that federal authorities are seeking the extradition of Richard Ayvazyan; his wife, Marietta Terabelian; and his sister-in-law Tamara Dadyan.
Ayvazyan, 43, and Terabelian, 37, sliced off their electronic monitoring bracelets and vanished in August after they were convicted in June.
Ayvazyan was sentenced in absentia to 17 years in prison for leading a fraud ring that stole $18 million in a scam to secure emergency pandemic loans meant for small businesses upended by lockdowns. His wife was sentenced to six years.
Dadyan, the wife of Ayvazyan’s younger brother, vanished Jan. 28, after U.S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson gave her 30 days to turn herself in, over the objections of federal prosecutors who said they had no faith she could be trusted to surrender. She had been sentenced to 10 years and 10 months in prison.
Their capture in Europe was first reported Wednesday by NBC News.
The three are among eight convicted conspirators in the scheme, authorities said.
The group filed 151 fraudulent applications for loans that were supposed to keep small businesses nationwide from collapsing during the initial lockdowns of the COVID-19 pandemic, prosecutors said.
The family fraud ring created sham businesses to get many of the loans, attaching fake payrolls and forged tax returns to the applications. To open bank accounts for the businesses, they used the names of people whose identities were stolen.
They spent the stolen money lavishly, prosecutors said. In June 2020, Ayvazyan and Terabelian used $640,000 in pandemic disaster loans to buy a $3.25-million hillside house in Tarzana, a Mediterranean-style villa with panoramic views.
When federal agents in combat gear raided the 2.6-acre estate in November 2020, Terabelian, who was out on bail, dashed out the back door and hurled a grocery bag into the bushes, prosecutors said.
Agents fetched the bag and emptied it, and stacks of cash tumbled onto the lawn — about $450,000.
A jury decided the government could confiscate the house, the cash, gold coins, diamond earrings, wristwatches and other property acquired with the pandemic business loans that were supposed to save jobs — including a $35,000 Rolex that Ayvazyan bought while on holiday in the Turks and Caicos Islands.
In text messages, Dadyan and her brother-in-law discussed how to create phony payroll reports and invent employer identification numbers that would look legitimate to government loan monitors.
FBI agents who raided the Encino house of Dadyan and her husband found fake identification documents, credit cards for phony businesses, checkbooks in the names of fraudulent loan applicants and notary stamps and seals belonging to state and federal courts.
Dadyan pleaded guilty in June to aggravated identity theft, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud, and conspiracy to commit money laundering. She named her husband and his brother as co-conspirators. Her husband, Artur Ayvazyan, in turn blamed Dadyan for the fraud when he took the stand at his trial.
Artur Ayvazyan was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison. He turned himself in on Jan. 28, the day his wife absconded.