Here’s the headline from the CNN story (no, not Breitbart): “A California couple vanished after stealing millions in Covid-19 relief funds. They left a goodbye note for their three kids.”
Look, we don’t want to be too judgmental here. The kiddies got a goodbye note! There might even be a jar of peanut butter left in the pantry. And Covid relief has been over-hyped anyway. Please, can we put away the sourpuss Puritanism?
CNN’s details don’t get any better.
Richard Ayvazyan and his wife, Marietta Terabelian, were facing prison for their role in a massive covid relief fraud scheme when they cut off their electronic tracking bracelets and fled their California home, abandoning their three teenage children.
They left a typewritten note for the kids, ages 13, 15 and 16. “We will be together again one day,” it read, according to Ayvazyan’s attorney. “This is not a goodbye but a brief break from each other.”
This was late August. Almost three months later — and five months after their convictions in June — the couple still have not been found. The FBI is searching for them.
Yes, well, the ankle bracelets didn’t work this time — who could have predicted that? — but still, we need to do everything we can to reduce the cruelties of prison. And incarceration is especially perverse when all we’re dealing with is, as here, a non-violent, white collar offense.
No, dear readers, I’m not making that up, just repeating what you and I see every day on pro-defendant websites.
That didn’t stop a judge this week from sentencing Ayvazyan, 43, and Terabelian, 37, in absentia to 17 and six years in prison, respectively. Prosecutors said they and others carried out a scheme to steal more than $20 million in relief funds intended for small businesses during the pandemic.
So the judge has the gall to impose draconian sentences when the defendants are not present to speak up for themselves. No wonder the more enlightened parts of the world look down on us.
According to court documents and evidence presented at trial, they used fake or stolen identities — including the names of dead people and foreign exchange students who briefly visited the US years ago — to submit fraudulent applications for approximately 150 federal pandemic relief loans for sham businesses in San Fernando Valley.
Just the kind of people with whom we can rest assured that ankle bracelets will suffice!
To support the fraudulent loan applications, they submitted fake identity documents along with falsified tax forms and payroll records to lenders and the Small Business Administration, federal prosecutors said.
The couple, along with Ayvazyan’s brother and five co-conspirators, used the money to buy mansions in three Southern California cities — Tarzana, Glendale and Palm Desert — along with gold coins, diamonds, furniture, luxury watches and a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, prosecutors said.
OK, it might not have been Covid relief exactly, but close.
And here’s the kicker (emphasis added):
Ashwin J. Ram, an attorney for the elder Ayvazyan, said prosecutors painted an exaggerated picture of his client’s involvement….Ram said he has not talked to Ayvazyan since he fled in August. He believes if his client had been in court, he’d have explained his side of the story.
“It was unfortunate that Mr. Ayvazyan was not present to complete the picture for the court,” he said. “That would have shed light on his background and experience, including his role a community leader, angel investor, and father and husband.”
I have sometimes been accused of being too tough on the criminal defense bar, but I will state under oath that I cannot conceive of any other profession that could come up with a line like that.