LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — A couple who the FBI says is on the run after being convicted in an $18 million COVID-19 relief fraud scheme were sentenced to several years of prison time Monday in absentia.
Richard Ayvazyan, 43, and his wife and co-defendant, 37-year-old Marietta Terabelian, remain at large after the FBI says they removed their electronic tracking bracelets in August. They had been found guilty in June in an $18 million COVID-19 relief loan scheme, that had included Ayvazyan's brother and several other relatives.
Even though they weren't present at Monday's sentencing, Judge Stephen V. Wilson sentenced Ayvazyan to 17 years in prison. Terabalian was sentenced to six years in prison.
Artur Ayvazyan, his brother, was sentenced to five years in prison for his part in the scheme. In an earlier hearing, 28-year-old Manuk Grigoryan of Sun Valley was sentenced to six years in prison, and 41-year-old Edvard Paronyan of Granada Hills got 30 months in prison.
The Justice Department says this is the first case of pandemic relief fraud in the country to go to trial.
"The defendants used the COVID-19 crisis to steal millions of dollars in much-needed government aid intended for people and businesses suffering from the economic effects of the worst pandemic in a century," U.S. Attorney Tracy L. Wilkison said in a statement.
The FBI is offering a $20,000 reward offered for information about their whereabouts that might lead to an arrest. However, the couple's family says they believe they were kidnapped, according to court documents. A judge has rejected the theory, writing in an order that there was no evidence to suggest they were taken by force. The FBI believes the couple is traveling together.
The Ayvazyan brothers and their wives were found guilty of using fake, stolen, and manufactured identities to apply for federal COVID relief funds, then using the money to buy luxury homes in Southern California, jewelry, designer handbags, and a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, among other items. Four other accomplices, who were also related to the couples, pleaded guilty earlier for their roles in the scheme.
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