A San Fernando Valley couple convicted in an $18 million COVID-19 relief fraud case has been sentenced to prison - even though it's not known where they are.
Richard Ayvazyan, 43, and Marietta Terabelian, 37, were convicted of submitting false claims to steal millions of dollars in pandemic relief money and instead using the funds for high-end goods.
They haven't been seen since late August. Facing the possibility of years behind bars, federal authorities believe they cut off their location monitoring devices, left a note for their children, and went on the run from their home. A Los Angeles judge signed bench warrants for their arrest shortly after.
Despite being missing, both were sentenced on Tuesday. 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.
Relatives of the couple contend the pair were kidnapped -- apparently to prevent them from disclosing the identities of accomplices who are not indicted, according to court papers.
U.S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson rejected the theory, finding that Ayvazyan and Terabelian had a motive to flee and there was no evidence to suggest they were taken by force.
Law enforcement believes Ayvazyan and Terabelian are traveling together.
The couple and two relatives were found guilty in June 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.
Prosecutors argued for sentencing enhancements for the apparent escape from supervision, and because many of the scheme's victims are considered "vulnerable."
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.
City News contributed to this report.