Former San Fernando Valley couple extradited to the United States from Montenegro to begin prison sentences for 20 million-dollar fraud scheme


Date: November 18, 2022


LOS ANGELES — A Southern California couple who fled to Montenegro to avoid serving lengthy prison sentences in a large COVID-relief fraud scheme were returned to the United States last night after more than a year as fugitives.

Richard Ayvazyan and his wife, Marietta Terabelian, both former residents of Encino, were extradited by Montenegro and arrived at Los Angeles International Airport Thursday night. They are expected to appear in United States District Court in Los Angeles this afternoon.

In June 2021, Ayvazyan and Terabelian were convicted by a federal jury of leading a conspiracy to fraudulently obtain more than $20 million in COVID-19 relief funds. While free on bond, Ayvazyan and Terabelian are believed to have fled after cutting their tracking bracelets on August 29, 2021.

In November 2021, they were sentenced in absentia. Ayvazyan was sentenced to 17 years in prison, and Terabelian was sentenced to six years in prison. U.S. authorities later determined the couple had fled to Montenegro.

Ayvazyan and Terabelian were members of a Los Angeles-based fraud ring who engaged a scheme to fraudulently obtain more than $20 million in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) COVID-19 relief funds. Ayvazyan and Terabelian used dozens of fake, stolen or synthetic identities – including names belonging to elderly or deceased people and foreign exchange students who briefly visited the United States years ago and never returned – to submit fraudulent applications for approximately 150 PPP and EIDL loans.

In support of the fraudulent loan applications, Ayvazyan and Terabelian also submitted false and fictitious documents to lenders and the Small Business Administration (SBA), including fake identity documents, tax documents, and payroll records. Ayvazyan and Terabelian then used the fraudulently obtained funds as down payments on luxury homes in Tarzana, Glendale and Palm Desert. They also used the funds to buy gold coins, diamonds, jewelry, luxury watches, fine imported furnishings, designer handbags, clothing and a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

IRS Criminal Investigation, the FBI, the Small Business Administration's Office of Inspector General, and the Federal Housing Finance Agency – Office of Inspector General investigated this COVID-relief fraud case.

The Government of Montenegro, including the Ministry of Justice, provided significant assistance in the extradition of Ayvazyan and Terabelian to the United States. The Justice Department's Office of International Affairs also provided substantial assistance in securing the arrest and extradition of Ayvazyan and Terabelian.

Assistant United States Attorneys Brian Faerstein and Scott Paetty, along with DOJ Trial Attorney Christopher Fenton, prosecuted the criminal case. Assistant United States Attorney Dan Boyle handled forfeiture proceedings. Trial Attorney Goran Krnaich and International Affairs Specialist Taylor Cole of the Office of International Affairs handled the extraditions.

On May 17, 2021, the Attorney General established the COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force to marshal the resources of the Department of Justice in partnership with agencies across government to enhance efforts to combat and prevent pandemic-related fraud. The Task Force bolsters efforts to investigate and prosecute the most culpable domestic and international criminal actors and assists agencies tasked with administering relief programs to prevent fraud by augmenting and incorporating existing coordination mechanisms, identifying resources and techniques to uncover fraudulent actors and their schemes, and sharing and harnessing information and insights gained from prior enforcement efforts.

Anyone with information about allegations of attempted fraud involving COVID-19 can report it by calling the Department of Justice's National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) Hotline via the NCDF Web Complaint Form.