LOS ANGELES – Three members of a San Fernando Valley family have been sentenced – two of them in absentia after they fled justice following their convictions at trial – to years in federal prison for scheming to fraudulently obtain more than $20 million in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) COVID-19 relief funds.
On Monday, United States District Judge Stephen V. Wilson handed down prison sentences to the Encino residents:
At Monday’s sentencing hearing, Judge Wilson said he could not recall a fraud case conducted in such a “callous, intentional way without any regard for the law.” Judge Wilson further described Richard Ayvazyan as “an endemic, cold-hearted fraudster with no regard for the law” and someone who “views fraud as an achievement.”
“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,” said United States Attorney Tracy L. Wilkison. “These sentences reflect our office’s determination to root out and punish wrongdoers who use national emergencies to defraud the government and the American taxpayer.”
“The defendants engaged in a scheme to steal critical relief funds intended to assist small businesses during the pandemic,” said Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “This case, involving an egregious example of pandemic relief fraud, was the first in the country to go to trial. The Department of Justice, along with our law enforcement partners, will continue to use every available tool to combat and prevent criminals from exploiting national emergencies for their personal benefit.”
“The defendants lived a lavish lifestyle by defrauding the government at the expense of small businesses and American taxpayers already facing financial and pandemic-related hardship,” said Kristi K. Johnson, the Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office. “The FBI is actively investigating the whereabouts of fugitives Terabelian and Ayvazyan and will pursue them until they are taken into custody to pay for their crimes.”
The FBI is offering a reward of up to $20,000 for information leading to the arrest of Richard Ayvazyan and Terabelian, who allegedly cut their tracking bracelets on August 29 and went on the run while awaiting sentencing in this case. Judge Wilson sentenced them in absentia, and they remain fugitives from justice.
At the end of an eight-day trial, a federal jury on June 25 found Richard Ayvazyan, Terabelian, and Artur Ayvazyan 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. Richard Ayvazyan and his brother were also convicted of aggravated identity theft.
On June 28, the jury further found that Richard Ayvazyan and Terabelian must forfeit bank accounts, jewelry, watches, gold coins, three residential properties and approximately $450,000 in cash.
Judge Wilson previously sentenced four defendants in this case:
Tamara Dadyan, 42, of Encino, is scheduled to be sentenced on December 6, but Judge Wilson has not yet ruled on a motion to withdraw her guilty plea.
According to court documents and evidence presented at trial, the defendants used dozens of fake, stolen or synthetic identities – including names belonging to elderly or deceased people and foreign exchange students who briefly visited the United States years ago and never returned – to submit fraudulent applications for approximately 150 PPP and EIDL loans. In support of the fraudulent loan applications, the defendants also submitted false and fictitious documents to lenders and the Small Business Administration (SBA), including fake identity documents, tax documents and payroll records. The defendants then used the fraudulently obtained funds as down payments on luxury homes in Tarzana, Glendale and Palm Desert. They also used the funds to buy gold coins, diamonds, jewelry, luxury watches, fine imported furnishings, designer handbags, clothing and a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. The conspirators sought to fraudulently obtain more than $20 million in COVID-19 relief funds.
“This criminal syndicate pilfered millions of dollars in COVID-19 relief funds that were intended to aid small businesses during this unprecedented pandemic,” said Special Agent in Charge Ryan L. Korner of the IRS-Criminal Investigation, Los Angeles Field Office. “When our nation was at its most vulnerable, these individuals thought only about lining their own pockets. These sentences reflect the seriousness of these crime. The IRS and our law enforcement partners will continue to pursue these deplorable frauds and put the perpetrators in prison where they belong.”
“Conspiring to rob victims of their identities and subsequently, taxpayer funds vital to the survival of the nation’s small businesses will be met with justice,” said SBA Inspector General Hannibal “Mike” Ware. “OIG will work tirelessly with its law enforcement partners to unmask those responsible. I want to thank the Department of Justice and our law enforcement partners for their dedication and pursuit of justice.”
“The Office of Inspector General is proud to work with our partners in law enforcement to prevent, detect, and deter attempts to perpetrate fraud in the Federal Home Loan Bank System and steal the assistance intended for small business owners and employees under this important part of the CARES Act,” said Special Agent in Charge Jay N. Johnson of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, Office of Inspector General’s Western Region. “The fact that the team was able to investigate this case during the height of the pandemic, at great risk to themselves and their loved ones, is a testament to their commitment to this country and federal service.”
The FBI, IRS Criminal Investigation, the Small Business Administration’s Office of Inspector General, and the Federal Housing Finance Agency Office of Inspector General investigated this matter.
Assistant United States Attorneys Scott Paetty and Catherine S. Ahn of the Major Frauds Section, Assistant United States Attorney Brian R. Faerstein of the Environmental and Community Safety Crimes Section, Assistant United States Attorney Daniel G. Boyle of the Asset Forfeiture Section, and Trial Attorney Christopher Fenton of the Fraud Section of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division are prosecuting this case.
On May 17, 2021, the Attorney General established the COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force to marshal the resources of the Department of Justice in partnership with agencies across government to enhance efforts to combat and prevent pandemic-related fraud. The Task Force bolsters efforts to investigate and prosecute the most culpable domestic and international criminal actors and assists agencies tasked with administering relief programs to prevent fraud by, among other methods, augmenting and incorporating existing coordination mechanisms, identifying resources and techniques to uncover fraudulent actors and their schemes, and sharing and harnessing information and insights gained from prior enforcement efforts. For more information on the Department’s response to the pandemic, please visit https://www.justice.gov/coronavirus.
Anyone with information about allegations of attempted fraud involving COVID-19 can report it by calling the Department of Justice’s National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) Hotline at 866-720-5721 or via the NCDF Web Complaint Form at: https://www.justice.gov/disaster-fraud/ncdf-disaster-complaint-form.