Los Angeles scam COVID fugitives extradited from Montenegro

Montenegro authorities said two Los Angeles convicts who fled to a luxurious life in Europe under false names after running an epidemic fraud ring were deported on Thursday from Montenegro to the United States.

Fugitives Richard Avazyan and Marita Terabilian were detained by agents from the US Marshals Service, local police said, at the airport in Podgorica, the capital of Montenegro.

The couple, who abandoned their three teenage children in a Tarzana mansion they bought in part with stolen COVID relief money, were arrested in February in the small, mountainous country on the Adriatic coast of Greece.

They had traveled there on a private plane using fake Mexican passports and had been living under false identities in a beachfront villa with a pool on the picturesque Bay of Kotor.

Ayvasian and Terabilian were convicted in June 2021 of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and related federal offenses to steal bailout loans meant for small businesses struggling to survive at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

With six accomplices, they applied for 151 loans to shell companies mainly in the San Fernando Valley, using fake payroll and false tax returns to secure loans in a scam that yielded $18 million.

Ayvazyan was sentenced in absentia last year to 17 years in prison and Terabilian to six years.

Their scam was one of the most outrageous scams taking advantage of the government’s rush to give corporations trillions of dollars in pandemic relief. The Justice Department has charged more than 1,500 people in COVID fraud cases totaling more than $1.1 billion.

After cutting their ankle monitoring bracelets and fleeing in August 2021, Avazyan and Terabilian lived quietly for nearly six months as Roberto Nico De Leon and Natalie Rose Perez Garcia in Tivat, a Montenegrin village known for its luxury boutiques and superyacht harbour.

The FBI discovered they were in Montenegro when Ayvazyan tried to withdraw money from one of the bank accounts he set up for a fake work on the COVID scam.

Richard Avazyan and Marita Terabilian lived in this villa on the outskirts of Tivat.

(Milos Vujovic)

Montenegrin police arrested Terabilian in a Tivat salon while she was getting hair extensions, then found Ayvazyan hours later at a hotel in Budva, a nightlife hub nearby.

They also arrested Tamara Dadian, the third fugitive in the COVID scam, who was at the hotel with Ayvazyan, her brother-in-law. Montenegro police said they had no information to release the pending US extradition request for Dadian.

US authorities did not immediately respond to requests to confirm the extradition of Ayvazyan and Terabilian.

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