Three family members accused of removing their tracking bracelets and going on the lam after they were convicted in an $18 million COVID-19 relief fraud case were captured in Montenegro, federal authorities said Wednesday.
Richard Ayvazyan, 43, his wife and co-defendant Marietta Terabelian, 37, and his sister-in-law Tamara Dadyan, 42, were arrested Tuesday in the small mountainous country in southeastern Europe, NBC News reported.
They have been missing since Aug. 29.
The three were among eight family members convicted of stealing more than $18 million in COVID relief loans and using the money on extravagant expenditures, like down payments on luxury homes, designer handbags, clothing and a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.
It was not immediately clear how their extradition to the U.S. might play out.
The FBI had no immediate comment.
The bizarre story has been so since the beginning.
In November 2021, the couple Ayvazyan and Terabelian were sentenced in court despite a no-show, which their family said was because they were kidnapped -- apparently to prevent them from disclosing the identities accomplices who are not indicted, according to court papers.
The FBI however said the married couple, facing the possibility of years behind bars, removed their location monitoring devices, left a note for their children, and absconded together from their Encino home. The following day, a Los Angeles judge signed bench warrants for their arrest.
In November, Ayvazyan was sentenced to 17 years in federal prison and his wife was handed a six-year term, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office. Ayvazyan was the alleged mastermind behind the crime ring.
The couple and two relatives were found guilty in June of 2021 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.
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,'' 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 Los Angeles federal 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.