Relatives of a San Fernando Valley couple accused of removing their tracking bracelets and going on the lam prior to their sentencing for an $18 million COVID-19 relief fraud case contend the pair were kidnapped — apparently to prevent them from disclosing the identities of un-indicted accomplices, according to court papers obtained Friday.
The FBI is offering a reward of up to $20,000 for information leading to the arrest of Richard Ayvazyan, 43, and his wife and co-defendant Marietta Terabelian, 37.
Federal authorities believe the couple, facing the possibility of years behind bars, removed their location monitoring devices, left a note for their children and absconded together on Aug. 29. The following day, a Los Angeles federal judge signed bench warrants for the couple’s arrest.
In new filings obtained by City News Service, defense attorneys wrote that certain relatives of the couple believe Ayvazyan and Terabelian were abducted and did not voluntarily disappear from their Encino home.
Based on those concerns, attorneys for the missing couple asked U.S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson to order the government to turn over a video which they contend might show Ayvazyan and Terabelian returning to the home on Sept. 2, several days after they disappeared from supervision.
The defense also asked the judge to postpone the Nov. 15 sentencing hearing and related deadlines.
In an order issued Friday, Wilson denied the defense application, ruling 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.
Ayvazyan and Terabelian, the judge wrote, “had a motive to flee.”
The judge further found that a belief by unspecified “family members” does not constitute evidence.
“Counsel put forth nothing in support of this claim of abduction — not even declarations from the unidentified `family members,”’ Wilson wrote. “Thus, there is no evidence rebutting the facts that suggest voluntary absence. … Ayvazyan and Terabelian may be considered voluntarily absent.”
As for the video, the judge determined that it was shot from some distance, and it is not possible to definitively confirm the identities of those depicted in it.
“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,” according to the judge’s order. “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 couple and two relatives were found guilty in June of scheming to submit fraudulent loan applications under which they and others obtained more than $18 million in Paycheck Protection and Economic Injury Disaster Loan program funds, which they used to make down payments on luxury homes in Tarzana, Glendale and Palm Desert, and to buy other high-end items such as gold coins, diamonds, jewelry, luxury watches, imported furnishings, designer handbags, clothing and a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.
Prosecutors have requested sentencing enhancements for the alleged escape from supervision, and because many of the scheme’s victims were considered “vulnerable.”
Ayvazyan “victimized elderly persons (including those with disabilities), deceased persons and foreign exchange students who had spent only a few months in the United States years ago and now lived thousands of miles away in a foreign country,” federal prosecutors wrote.
The defendants were convicted of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and wire fraud, wire fraud, bank fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering. Ayvazyan was also found guilty of aggravated identity theft.
The jury determined the defendants must forfeit bank accounts, jewelry, watches, gold coins, three homes and about $450,000 in cash, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Evidence showed the defendants used bogus or stolen identities to submit fraudulent applications for the loans. To support the applications, the defendants also submitted sham documents to lenders and the Small Business Administration, including fake identity documents, tax documents and payroll records, prosecutors said.
Prior to the verdict, four accomplices pleaded guilty to criminal charges in the case.
The FBI asks that anyone who has information on the couple call 310-477-6565.