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New charges against Glendale cop alleging ties to Mexican Mafia and Armenian organized crime signal possible plea deal

New charges against Glendale cop alleging ties to Mexican Mafia and Armenian organized crime signal possible plea deal
John Saro Balian, shown in 2006, after he became a spokesman for the Glendale Police Department. (Times Community News)

Federal prosecutors have filed new charges against a Glendale narcotics detective suspected of maintaining ties with the Mexican Mafia and Armenian organized crime in a move that signals the two sides are negotiating a plea deal.

John Saro Balian, 45, now faces one count each of soliciting a bribe, obstructing justice by helping a gangster avoid arrest and making false statements to federal investigators about his relationships with criminals, according to a criminal information filing last week. He was arrested last month on just the latter charge.

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The criminal information, a charging document that in a felony case typically indicates that a defendant has waived indictment and has agreed instead to plead guilty, comes after Balian requested time to negotiate a plea agreement, according to court records.

It’s unclear if Balian is cooperating with prosecutors to build cases against others.

“Anything’s possible,” said Tracy Webb, a spokeswoman with the U.S. attorney’s office.

Reached by phone Sunday, Balian’s attorney Marc Nurik declined to comment.

A federal judge ordered that Balian be permanently detained, calling him a flight risk and a danger because of his alleged ties to criminals, participation in extortion schemes and witness intimidation, according to court records. The judge also noted that Balian, who lives in Seal Beach, has the means to flee and relatives in France. He is being held in protective custody.

Balian, a veteran officer and a former spokesman for the Glendale Police Department, was identified as a person of interest by the FBI's Eurasian Organized Crime Task Force, which was probing ties between the Mexican Mafia and Armenian organized crime.

During the investigation, three confidential informants told authorities about troubling interactions with the detective. They are detailed in a 47-page affidavit by Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent Michael Hyland.

One of the informants is a St. Andrews (STA) gang member and an associate of the Mexican Mafia who in October spoke with the Los Angeles Police Department’s elite Robbery-Homicide Division from jail, where he was awaiting trial on an extortion charge. In the affidavit, Hyland said the informant probably provided information in the hopes that it would help him with pending state and federal criminal cases.

In one case the informant described, Balian allegedly offered a tip about a gang sweep, allowing a top target — a Frogtown gang member — in a federal racketeering case to flee before agents arrived.

“Tell your boy Bouncer that he’s the No. 1 on the list for tomorrow,” Balian allegedly warned, according to the affidavit. It took agents another month to arrest the target.

The informant also alleged that Balian gave him locations of marijuana grow and drug stash houses — information he was privy to as an officer — and told him to “hit them” before law enforcement could execute their search warrants, according to the affidavit.

Balian also allegedly gave the informant names of people to extort and instructed him to “slap around” people to persuade them to pay money. He allegedly told the informant, who is Latino, that Armenians would not respect or pay him if they didn’t fear him, the affidavit said.

The informant said he and Balian communicated using “burners,” cellphones they used only with each other for no more than a month at a time. On one of the informant’s phones, according to the filing, Balian’s burner number was saved in the contacts as “Bro.”

In another incident, Balian allegedly offered the informant and a second man $100,000 to “scare” someone in Commerce, a request that led to a July 2016 shooting of an Armenian businessman’s bodyguard.

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The informant said he was unable to participate but loaned the second man his car. After the encounter, when the man returned the car, they spoke.

“I think I hit him,” the second man said, according to the filing. Later, he added, “I think I killed him.”

The alleged shooter gave the gun to the informant, who said he gave the gun to Balian, according to the filing. It’s unclear whether the bodyguard lived.

A second informant who said he had known Balian since middle school told authorities that someone broke into his office in February 2017 and stole a significant amount of property. The informant alleged that Balian agreed to track down the person responsible in exchange for $10,000, partly paid up front, according to the affidavit.

The first informant, the gangster who spoke to authorities from jail, told authorities that Balian told him to rob the man the second informant paid him to hunt down.

“Go hit him. He has all the [expletive],” he recalled Balian saying, according to the affidavit.

When confronted by federal agents in four interviews over the last year, Balian lied about his ties to the Mexican Mafia and Armenian organized crime in Southern California, authorities said.

“I’m not [expletive] on anybody’s payroll,” he told the LAPD and FBI in one interview when they asked about the second informant.

Balian was one of five Armenian American officers who sued Glendale in 2010, alleging discrimination, retaliation and harassment. The city eventually settled the case, paying $7,500 of Balian’s attorney’s fees, and depositing 250 hours of sick time and 50 hours of vacation time into his leave bank.

He joined the Glendale police force in 2004 after more than eight years with the Montebello Police Department. Sgt. Daniel Suttles, a Glendale police spokesman, said Balian already was on leave without pay before his May 15 arrest, but would not elaborate except to cite privacy laws for medical information.

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