Richard Ayvazyan and Marietta Terabelian: LA fugitives left 3 children behind and fled with dog
A group, led by Richard Ayvazyan and of which Marietta Terabelian was a part, created a bunch of fictitious San Fernando Valley businesses to secure 151 loans
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA: A couple from Tarzana, a suburban neighborhood in the San Fernando Valley region of Los Angeles, were on the run from federal authorities for several months now. Richard Ayvazyan and Marietta Terabelian were convicted in June last year of conspiring with family members and others to fraudulently secure at least $21 million in Covid-19 relief funds. However, the pair managed to flee after cutting off their ankle monitors. They were captured in Europe in February this year.
A group, led by Ayvazyan, created a bunch of fictitious San Fernando Valley businesses to secure 151 loans under the Paycheck Protection and Economic Injury Disaster Loan programs. Among other items, the swindlers used the cash to buy luxury homes in Tarzana, Glendale, and Palm Desert, as well as gold coins, jewelry, luxury watches, designer handbags, and a Harley Davidson motorcycle. A federal jury in Los Angeles convicted Ayvazyan, Terabelian, and two relatives for their roles in the scam on June 25 last year. Four accomplices reportedly pleaded guilty.
Life in Montenegro
While police worldwide were on alert to capture the fraudsters, they fled to Montenegro to eventually shed their identities as Richard Ayvazyan and Marietta Terabelian. The couple managed to enter Montenegro with the help of forged Mexican passports. Their new names were Roberto Niko De Leon and Nataly Rose Perez Garcia.
The couple had abandoned their two sons, then 16 and 14, and a daughter, 15, back in Tarzana. They had brought their dog along. Ayvazyan had left a goodboye note for his children, telling them they would reunite again. "While I am writing this our tears are dripping on our breakfast table,” he wrote. “Without saying too much, we both love you more than anything in this world.”
It is unclear where the couple kept most of their stolen money. Days after they arrived, Ayvazyan and Terabelian rented an apartment in Porto Montenegro, which is known to be Tivat’s most exclusive neighborhood. They had a Range Rover and a BMW shipped from Los Angeles, and the FBI confirmed that both cars had California plates.
Ayvazyan used his De Leon alias to open an account at Banka Hipotekarna. He got a temporary Montenegro residency permit and registered a real estate business, naming it Leon Enterprises. A cpuple of months later, the pair rented a waterfront villa on the outskirts of Tivat, which became their second residence since they arrived. They rented a third residence later.
This is the seaside villa where two LA swindlers were enjoying life in Montenegro while police worldwide were searching for them. They ran an $18 million pandemic relief scam in California. /1 https://t.co/qS0lHJATiw pic.twitter.com/agLRnEhHLt— Michael Finnegan (@finneganLAT) July 21, 2022
Local vendors said Terabelian, who once ran a kids’ hair salon called Little Rock Stars in Sherman Oaks, was friendly. A cashier at a shop in Porto Montenegro said one 'Nataly' had once asked for help in finding a real Christmas tree, and not a plastic one. “She is very nice to me,” the cashier said, according to Los Angeles Times.
The pair went on to open bank accounts for many of the fake companies that applied for loans. Posing as 'Iuliia Zhadko' and 'Viktoria Kauichko', they yielded $18 million in taxpayer money in five months.
The dramatic arrest
While Ayvazyan and Terabelian lived their lives in Montenegro, Tamara Dadyan, Ayvazyan’s chief lieutenant in the fraud ring, was up for sentencing. Her husband Artur was Ayvazyan’s brother. She implicated both brothers, as well as Terabelian, in the crimes when she pleaded guilty to three felonies. US District Judge Stephen V Wilson sentenced her to more than 10 years in prison. She was supposed to report to prison by noon on January 28 this year, but she managed to flee to Europe. On February 9, she arrived at the airport in Vienna and boarded an Austrian Airlines flight bound for Podgorica, the capital of Montenegro.
At the time, Justin Palmerton, the FBI agent who was looking into the fraud cases and was also in charge of the fugitive hunt, found that an individual in Montenegro had tried to log in to one of the bank accounts that was set up by Ayvazyan for a bogus company to receive pandemic relief. Palmerton subsequently reached out to Montenegro police, and the fugitive squad of Dejan Boljević, the Montenegro police supervisor in charge of searches for foreign fugitives, opened an investigation. They learned that the bank log-in attempt came from a home where 'De Leon' and 'Perez Garcia' were living.
Arriving at the villa, police demanded to see Ayvazyan’s residency papers. Ayvazyan told them he would be back soon, but he ran out the back door as cops waited outside. As police pursued him, they spotted a man with the couple's dog. The man turned out to be someone the couple had hired as a dog walker. Police soon learned that Terabelian was in a nearby salon, and eventually managed to arrest her. She was carrying a Mexican passport as well as a British passport under another false identity.
Meanwhile, police learned that Ayvazyan had used a British passport to check into a hotel in Budva. Hotel staff said he left his room with a female companion, who turned out to be Dadyan. When the two returned to there room, police finally arrested them.
Boljević confirmed that the three of them were prosecuted in Montenegro for using forged documents to enter the country. The Justice Ministry is looking into a request for their extradition, and Ayvazyan has reportedly requested political asylum.