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Glendale police detective pleads guilty to obstruction, lying to feds about ties to organized crime

Glendale police detective pleads guilty to obstruction, lying to feds about ties to organized crime
John Saro Balian, shown in 2006, after he became a spokesman for the Glendale Police Department. (Times Community News)

A Glendale police narcotics detective pleaded guilty this week to charges that he lied to federal investigators about his links to organized crime and tipped off the Mexican Mafia about an upcoming gang sweep, helping a top target avoid arrest, court records show.

John Saro Balian, 45, of Seal Beach pleaded guilty to one count each of soliciting a bribe, obstruction of justice and making false statements to federal investigators as part of a plea agreement he reached with prosecutors. The document was ordered to be filed under seal but appeared on PACER, a public online database for court documents.

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According to the agreement, filed in U.S. District Court, Balian agreed to cooperate with federal authorities in interviews and court proceedings. He is scheduled to be sentenced in September, when prosecutors are expected to recommend a reduced sentence.

The charges to which he pleaded guilty carry a maximum sentence of 35 years in prison.

Balian’s attorney, Craig Missakian, declined to comment.

A judge on Friday denied Balian’s request to be released on bond. After his May 15 arrest, the judge had ordered he be permanently detained, calling him a flight risk and a danger because of his alleged participation in extortion schemes and witness intimidation, according to court records.

In the bond request this week, Balian argued that new facts should mitigate those concerns.

“These include the nature of the charges defendant faces and the relatively short length of the likely sentence, facts that address certain of the more serious allegations in the complaint affidavit, more information about defendant’s past travel and ties to foreign countries, and additional potential surety and bond resources,” Balian’s application said.

Balian, a veteran officer and 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, including several murders, according to the plea agreement.

During the investigation, three confidential informants told authorities about troubling interactions with the detective, which were detailed in a 47-page affidavit.

According to the plea agreement, Balian accepted $2,000 to help locate someone believed to have broken into his associate’s office and stolen $100,000 worth of property.

In March 2017, the agreement said, Balian gave information to the U.S. Marshals Services stationed at the Glendale Police Department, causing law enforcement resources to be used in an attempt to find the alleged thief.

In June 2015, Balian overheard Glendale police officers discussing a plan to search and arrest about 22 people in a federal racketeering case targeting the Frogtown gang, which is loyal to the Mexican Mafia, the agreement said.

Balian then tipped off his associates within the Mexican Mafia, saying authorities planned to arrest Jorge Grey, a Frogtown “shotcaller” who was a top target, the affidavit said.

“Tell your boy Bouncer that he’s the No. 1 on the list for tomorrow,” Balian allegedly warned, according to the affidavit.

Grey fled, and it took agents about a month to arrest him.

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Balian “acted corruptly with the specific intent to subvert the due administration of justice for the purpose of enhancing his reputation with the Mexican Mafia,” the plea agreement said.

During four interviews with authorities, the plea agreement said, Balian provided false and misleading information to conceal his relationships with the Mexican Mafia and Armenian organized crime.

Balian was one of five Armenian American officers who sued Glendale in 2010, alleging discrimination, retaliation and harassment. The city eventually settled the case.

Balian remains on unpaid leave with the Police Department.

In a statement this week, Glendale Police Chief Carl Povilaitis said Balian’s actions “are not consistent with the values” of the department. “A felony conviction disqualifies an individual from being a peace officer in the state of California, and the Glendale Police Department is taking swift and appropriate action.”

10 a.m. July 17: This story was restored to the version that was published before a federal judge ordered The Times to remove references from the filed plea agreement. The judge lifted the order Tuesday morning.

5:15 p.m.: This story has been updated to remove references from the filed plea agreement, which was ordered sealed by a judge but publicly available Friday on the federal court’s online document database. The changes were made to comply with an order issued Saturday by a U.S. federal judge. The Times plans to challenge the order.

3:40 p.m.: This article was updated with a statement from the Glendale police chief.

This article was originally published at 10:55 a.m.

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