Crime | July 24, 2022 6:21 pm

How Married COVID-19 Scammers Were Discovered in Montenegro

The latest twist in a globe-spanning case

Tivat, Montenegro.
Alex Alishevskikh, CC BY-SA 2.0

There’s something especially disquieting about using a global crisis as a way to illicitly make money. Last year, the Los Angeles Times‘s Michael Finnegan reported on what he dubbed “one of the more lurid scams that swindlers across the U.S. mounted last year.” It involved a married couple, Richard Ayvazyan and Marietta Terabelian, who were arrested under suspicion of heading a scam that involved getting $18 million in pandemic relief loans for nonexistent businesses.

Ayvazyan and Terabelian were convicted, but later escaped the country while awaiting sentencing.

Now, more details have emerged on where Ayvazyan and Terabelian went after their escape — and what led to their capture. Finnegan has followed up his earlier reporting with a new article, one which followed the fugitives to Montenegro — which lacks an extradition treaty with the United States.

The couple settled in the city of Tivat, but took a number of steps which revealed their presence to the authorities. These included linking up with one of their co-conspirators, who had also fled the United States, and trying to log in to a bank account for one of the companies they had used to illicitly get funds.

As Finnegan notes, the question of whether the United States will pursue extradition is an open one. However, the fact that Ayvazyan and Terabelian entered Montenegro with forged documents has led to their imprisonment there. It’s the latest chapter in an unexpectedly globe-trotting saga.