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A couple convicted of scheming to take $20 million in COVID relief funds has fled, prosecutors said.
They pair used the swindled money to buy mansions, jewelry, and luxury goods, authorities said.
The couple told their children they'd be taking a "brief break from one another," reports said.
A California couple who ran a scheme that stole millions in COVID-19 relief funds cut off their electronic bracelets and fled while waiting for their prison sentences, authorities said on Tuesday.
Richard Ayvazyan, 43, and his wife, Marietta Terabelian, 37, used fake identities — including the names of elderly or deceased people and foreign-exchange students who had left the US — to claim money meant to aid small businesses and people suffering from the pandemic, federal prosecutors said.
Ayvazyan recruited others who have already been sentenced, and together they made about 150 fraudulent loan applications while scheming to take $20 million in funds, prosecutors said.
The couple then used the cash to buy luxury homes in Tarzana, Glendale, and Palm Desert, as well as gold coins, jewelry, luxury watches, designer handbags, and a Harley Davidson motorcycle, among other lavish items, prosecutors said.
The couple and Ayvazyan's brother, Artur, were found guilty on June 25 of wire fraud, bank fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering, and conspiracy to commit bank fraud.
On August 29, the couple fled and left a note for their three teenage children, the Los Angeles Times reported.
"We will be together again one day. This is not a goodbye but a brief break from one another," they wrote.
On Monday, the pair was sentenced in absentia by US District Judge Stephen V. Wilson, who handed Ayvazyan a 17-year sentence and gave Terabelian six years in prison. Artur Ayvazyan was given five years in federal prison.
The couple's children were "visibly distraught" in the courtroom on Monday as they listened to the judge sentence their parents and uncle, the LA Times reported.
The children — ages 13, 15, and 16 — are living with their grandparents, Ayvazyan's attorney said, The New York Times reported.
At the sentencing hearing, Wilson called Ayvazyan an "endemic, cold-hearted fraudster with no regard for the law." He said he couldn't recall a fraud case conducted in such a "callous, intentional way," a Justice Department statement said.
"If given the opportunity, he would concoct another fraud, because the way he spoke of this fraud indicates that that is his way of life," Wilson said, the LA Times reported.
Ashwin J. Ram, Ayvazyan's attorney, said his client should have gotten a sentence of six years at most, and that the convicted fraudster's absence made it difficult to show the judge that he was a family man, churchgoer, and legitimate businessman, the LA Times reported.
He also said that the couple's family believed they were abducted by coconspirators who haven't been caught and sought to silence them, CNN reported.
Ram did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment.
Ryan Fraser, Terabelian's lawyer, described her in an email to Insider as a "loving mother and devoted wife who has tirelessly supported not only her three children, but also her parents, mother-in-law, and sister."
"Judge Wilson recognized this in his sentence, imposing significantly less than one-third the time the prosecutors sought in their memorandum," Fraser added.
Read the original article on Insider