Tigran Svadjian shed two identities, abandoned his wife and children, and faked his own death — all to avoid prosecution for allegedly stealing $2.4 million in Medi-Cal funds.
When the Newport Beach doctor fled to Russia in 2002, he faced up to 10 years in federal prison if convicted. He was captured last summer and brought back to the U.S.
But on Thursday, Svadjian was sentenced to just 29 months in prison and a year of supervision after pleading guilty to fleeing federal prosecution.
The U.S. attorney’s office could not try him on the original Medi-Cal fraud case because that evidence was destroyed when authorities thought Svadjian was dead. The maximum sentence he faced Thursday for fleeing was five years.
“Did the defendant get away with his scheme? Yes, Mr. Svadjian, to a degree you were successful,” Judge Michael Fitzgerald said in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom. “You deserve 60 months.”
In court documents, Svadjian’s defense attorney had sought an eight-month sentence, arguing that the 58-year-old had reformed while living abroad under another identity and was no longer practicing medicine. Svadjian’s son and two friends wrote letters to the judge asking for leniency on his behalf.
“My father, Tigran, always worked hard to provide for our family,” Andre Svadjian wrote to the judge. “Growing up he volunteered as one of my soccer coaches and always took me to all my hockey practices and games. We would often go together on little weekend trips to Lake Havasu ... which are my best memories. I wished that I could have spent more time with him growing up.”
After Svadjian fled to Russia, he then moved to Egypt and started a new life. He met his current fiancee there, and they have two children.
“I know right now I’m completely different and I’d like to go back to my family,” Svadjian told the judge before his sentence was handed down.
But prosecutor Bryant Yang underlined just how extraordinary Svadjian’s case was.
“The sentencing guidelines don’t capture the defendant’s egregious conduct,” Yang told judge. “He did a whole host of things — a scheme to obstruct justice.”
In an FBI affidavit, authorities described what Svadjian confessed to.
While overseas in October 2002, Svadjian met a Russian police officer at a party who said that for a “service fee,” the man could fake his death. Svadjian agreed and paid $200 for the privilege of being dead, courtesy of falsified paperwork from a morgue in Moscow.
He then obtained a Russian passport under the name Vasily Petrosov, whose birthday was in February 1961. Svadjian told prosecutors that the pseudonym was an old family name and the birthday belonged to one of his cousins.
He moved to Egypt, where his father had citizenship and authorities at the time didn’t check documents. He applied for citizenship there, authorities said, though he never got it.
It was there that Svadjian found a home and began earning a living as a part-time scuba instructor. He fell in love with a woman from Sochi, Russia, a resort city on the coast of the Black Sea.
In 2012, the couple had their first child, a son. Last summer, the couple learned they were expecting a second child.
But this would be a difficult pregnancy, and would require a caesarean procedure. Svadjian’s girlfriend went back to her hometown, where the medical care would be better, and would await him there.
But Svadjian no longer had a passport under his Petrosov pseudonym. The one he had was fake, and authorities seized it when he tried to renew it. So Svadjian contacted a Lithuanian friend and purchased another fake passport.
Svadjian became Viktoras Cajevkis. A Lithuanian.
Armed with his passport and other documents, he left Egypt for Russia — with a stop in Ukraine.
But authorities in Kiev soon realized his passport was fraudulent and sent him back to Egypt, where police arrested him July 31. Determined to find out who he really was, they searched his apartment, which yielded a Russian passport under the name of Petrosov.
They also found a canceled American passport with another name: Tigran Svadjian.