COVID-19 Relief Fraudsters Flee California, Leave 3 Teenage Kids Behind

Photo: (Photo : JOEL SAGET/AFP via Getty Images)

Richard Ayvazyan and Marietta Terabelian, the COVID-19 relief fraudsters who have been awaiting their prison sentence, have fled their home in California without their three teenage children.

According to reports, the parents prepared a typewritten note for their 13-, 15-, and 16-year-old kids through their attorney. The note stated that it is not a goodbye for their family but "a brief break from each other."

Ayvazyan and Terabelian, who were wearing electronic bracelets since their conviction for fraud in June 2021, disappeared from their home in August. Despite their absence, the judge sentenced the couple in November to 17 years in prison for Ayvazyan and six years for Terabelian for stealing nearly $20 million of COVID-19 relief funds. Ayvazyan's brother, Arthur, was also sentenced to five years.

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A Lavish Lifestyle Using Fake Identities

According to the Department of Justice, the parents "lived a lavish lifestyle" by fooling the government in a scheme using fake identities of the elderly, the deceased or foreign exchange students.  They also submitted fake records and payrolls to support their claims of needing COVID-19 relief.

Alongside their recruits, Ayvazyan and his wife filed over 150 claims meant for legitimate small businesses as soon as the government funds were ready in the spring of 2020. A witness said that Ayvazyan informed them to file these claims as soon as possible before the government money runs out. With the cash relief, Ayvazyan and Terabelian were able to buy three more luxury houses, jewelry, handbags, watches, a Harley Davidson motorcycle, and other expensive items. 

Their children, who have been living with their grandparents since their parents' disappearance, were said to be "distraught" over the sentencing. Judge Stephen V. Wilson called Ayvazyan a cold-hearted fraudster who conducted his schemes with his wife in a "callous, intentional way."

The judge said that this was the way of life for Ayvazyan, who was described as an active churchgoer and doting father. He was also a prominent member of the Southern California Armenian community. Ayvazyan has been an investor in several small businesses but the other part of his life was never tackled during the hearing because he fled the state with his wife.

Terabelian, on the other hand, was described by her lawyer as a "loving mother and devoted wife" who not only supported her kids but also her extended family. She used to work at a children's hair salon.

The FBI has offered a $20,000 reward for anyone who can inform them of the whereabouts of the COVID-19 relief fraudsters.

Family Believes They've Been Kidnapped

While the FBI said that the parents are on the run, their families believe that they have been kidnapped by the co-conspirators who have yet to be convicted and who did not want Ayvazyan and Terabelian to disclose their identities to the authorities. Thus, they did not voluntarily leave their California home nor abandon their kids.

Their lawyers asserted on the kidnapping angle because there are no traces of used credit cards or electronic accounts. However, the judge rejected the kidnapping assumption as there is also no evidence that they have been forced to leave.

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