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Three fugitives convicted in $18 million Covid relief scam captured in Montenegro

The trio — Richard Ayvazyan; his wife, Marietta Terabelian; and his sister-in-law Tamara Dadyan — were on the FBI’s most wanted list.

Three fraudsters who went on the run after being convicted of carrying out a multimillion-dollar Covid-19 relief scam have been captured in Montenegro, U.S. law enforcement sources said Wednesday.

Richard Ayvazyan, 43; his wife, Marietta Terabelian, 37; and his sister-in-law Tamara Dadyan, 42, were arrested Tuesday in the small mountainous country in southeastern Europe, the sources said.

It was not immediately clear how their extradition to the U.S. might play out.

The FBI had no immediate comment.

After this story was published, a Justice Department spokeswoman confirmed that the fraudsters had been arrested in Montenegro.

“We are seeking their extradition,” she added in a statement.

The three fugitives were among eight members of a California crime ring convicted of stealing more than $18 million in Covid relief loans.

Prosecutors said they used fake or stolen identities to submit fraudulent applications to receive about 150 Covid relief loans from the Paycheck Protection Program and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program. The fraudsters used the stolen money for down payments on luxury homes and to buy such items as gold coins, diamonds and a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

Tamara Dadyan, Richard Ayvazyan, 43 and his wife Marietta Terabelian, 37.
Tamara Dadyan, Richard Ayvazyan, and Marietta Terabelian.FBI

Ayvazyan was identified as the ringleader of the scam. He and his wife went on the run last summer as they awaited sentencing. 

Federal authorities believe the couple cut off their ankle monitoring bracelets and fled their home, leaving behind their three children, after they were convicted in June. Ayvazyan was sentenced in absentia in November to 17 years in prison. His wife was sentenced to six years.

The FBI was offering a reward of up to $20,000 for information leading to the couple’s arrests.

Tamara Dadyan, 42, was supposed to report to prison Jan. 28 to start serving a 10-year sentence, but she never showed up. 

“I don’t know where the heck she is,” her lawyer, Joseph Benincasa, told NBC News in early February after the FBI revealed that she had disappeared.

Benincasa did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

The attorney who represented Ayvazyan told NBC News he was no longer representing the convicted fraudster. An attorney for Terabelian, David Diamond, said he had no information about an arrest. 

The three fugitives were on the FBI's most wanted list.