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Couple Convicted in $21M COVID Relief Scam on the Run After Cutting Ankle Monitors

Newsweek logo Newsweek 9/2/2021 Fatma Khaled
a close up of a logo: The couple and two other family members used fake identities to apply for COVID-19 relief funds that they used to purchase luxury homes, jewelry, and designer clothing, among others. Above, the Department of Justice seal is seen on a lectern ahead of a press conference announcing efforts against computer hacking and extortion at the Department of Justice in Washington, DC on November 28, 2018. © Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP) (Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images The couple and two other family members used fake identities to apply for COVID-19 relief funds that they used to purchase luxury homes, jewelry, and designer clothing, among others. Above, the Department of Justice seal is seen on a lectern ahead of a press conference announcing efforts against computer hacking and extortion at the Department of Justice in Washington, DC on November 28, 2018.

A California couple convicted of scamming their way into attaining $21 million in COVID-19 relief funds have cut off their ankle bracelets and ran loose, said authorities.

"Richard Ayvazyan, 43, & Marietta Terabelian, 37, were found guilty in $21 million bank/SBA fraud & are set to be sentenced. The pair allegedly cut monitoring bracelets & are considered fugitives," the FBI wrote in a tweet on Tuesday.

Ayvazyas, his wife Terabelian, and two other family members in June were found guilty of submitting fraudulent applications for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan. Each individual could potentially face a sentence of up to 52 years in prison.

The couple have been missing since Sunday and they were set to be sentenced for their fraud crime on October 4 in Los Angeles, CBS Denver reported.

All four family members used the funds to purchase luxury items including, gold, diamonds, and designer clothing. They also reportedly spent the funds to buy houses in Tarzana, Glendale and Palm Desert, according to 4 CBS Denver.

In June, the U.S. Department of Justice said that the convicted individuals used fake identities to obtain COVID-19 relief funds and submit false documents, including fake tax and payroll documents, to lenders and the Small Business Administration (SBA).

Ayvazyan, his wife and his brother Artur, who was also involved in the scheme, all lived in Encino, California. Each were found guilty of one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and wire fraud;11 counts of wire fraud; eight counts of bank fraud; and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering.

The Department of Justice also said in June that a fourth individual, Vahe Dadyan of Glendale, California, was found guilty of one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and wire fraud; six counts of wire fraud; three counts of bank fraud; one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering; and one count of money laundering.

Several instances of fraud were detected in California since the COVID-19 relief programs were created. In May, a 38-year-old man from Orange County was charged with fraudulently obtaining $5 million from the PPP program to purchase luxury cars and holiday vacations.

The House Coronavirus Oversight Committee released a report in March found that $84 billion issued as part of the federal COVID-19 financial relief program were obtained fraudulently. Only 1 percent of those funds were seized by the Department of Justice or forfeited by its recipients.

A federal COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force was established in May to prevent fraud incidents as it assists the Department of Justice and other federal agencies in handling pandemic-related scams.

Newsweek contacted the FBI for additional comments, but didn't receive a response by the time of publishing.

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