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Family Members Believe Missing Encino Couple Convicted In $18M COVID Fraud Scheme Were Kidnapped

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – Family members of an Encino couple who went on the lam this summer after being convicted in an $18 million COVID-19 relief fraud scheme believe that the couple have been kidnapped.

Encino Couple On The Run After Being Convicted In $18M COVID Relief Fraud Scheme
Undated photos of 43-year-old Richard Ayvazyas and his wife, 37-year-old Marietta Terabelian of Encino, Calif., who have disappeared after being convicted in a federal COVID-19 relief fraud case. (FBI)

According to court records obtained Friday, family members believe that 43-year-old Richard Ayvazyan and 37-year-old Marietta Terabelian were kidnapped in an effort to prevent them from disclosing the identities of unindicted co-conspirators.

Ayvazyan and Terabelian were convicted by a federal jury back in June of charges including bank fraud, wire fraud and money laundering. Two other family members were convicted in the scheme.

However, while awaiting sentencing, federal authorities reported that on Aug. 29, the couple cut off their ankle monitoring bracelets and went on the run.

Defense lawyers wrote in recent filings obtained by City News Service that family members of the couple believe Ayvazyan and Terabelian were abducted and did not voluntarily abscond from their Encino home.

Based on such concerns, attorneys for the missing couple are asking the government to permit inspection of a purported video which could show Ayvazyan and Terabelian voluntarily returning to the home on Sept. 2.

In a report issued on Friday, U.S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson denied the defense's application. He ruled that the facts support the theory that the couple voluntarily fled the home nine days after the court denied their motion for a new trial, claiming that the couple had motive to flee.

He continued by saying:

"Counsel put forth nothing in support of this claim of abduction - not even declarations from the unidentified 'family members... Thus, there is no evidence rebutting the facts that suggest voluntary absence. ... Ayvazyan and Terabelian may be considered voluntarily absent."

If the couple are not seen on the purported video, "then there is no reliable evidence of voluntary flight. It is not credible to assert that Ayvazyan and Terabelian would have voluntarily fled without leaving any traces such as use of credit lines, electronic accounts, or vehicles," Ayvazyan attorney Ashwin J. Ram wrote.

Wilson's thoughts on the video were also addressed in the order:

"However, it shows two individuals, a man and a woman whose physical characteristics match those of Ayvazyan and Terabelian, walking outside the property and entering through a gate. ... No one is physically controlling the two individuals; no one appears to be otherwise coercing the individuals. Both appear to be walking into the property freely and of their own volition ... with nothing to suggest that they had been abducted, as defense counsel suggests. While the court cannot say with certainty that Ayvazyan and Terabelian are the individuals appearing on the video, the physical characteristics match, thus the video undermines defense counsel's speculative theory that they were abducted and are therefore involuntarily absent."

Law enforcement believes Ayvazyan and Terabelian are traveling together.

The four family members were found guilty of fraudulently obtaining more than $18 million in Paycheck Protection and Economic Injury Disaster Loan program funds. They used the money to put down payments on luxury homes in Tarzana, Glendale and Palm Desert and purchase jewelry and other high-end items.

The couple's sentencing hearing is slated for Nov. 15.

The FBI asks that anyone who has information on the couple call 310- 477-6565. A $20,000 reward is being offered for information leading to an arrest.

(© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)

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