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Beverly Hills lawyer is at center of FBI agent corruption scandal, sources say

The seal of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
(Mandel Ngan / AFP/Getty Images)

When a veteran FBI agent was charged last week with taking bribes, one question loomed: Who was the Beverly Hills lawyer, unnamed in the charging documents, who told investigators he gave the agent cash, escorts and other perks for sensitive law enforcement information?

Multiple sources identified the lawyer as Edgar Sargsyan, a onetime business partner of Lev Aslan Dermen, a petroleum magnate and reputed organized crime figure. Sargsyan couldn’t be reached for comment and his attorneys didn’t respond to requests for comment.

In court papers filed Tuesday, Sargsyan agreed to plead guilty to five felony counts. He admitted plying agents from the FBI and Homeland Security Investigations with cash, excursions to Las Vegas and other perks, and receiving inside information and illegal favors in return. He acknowledged misleading investigators about the bribes. And he said he perpetrated a bank fraud, known as a bust-out, by taking out credit cards in the names of visa holders who had left the country and charging $940,000 to the cards at businesses he controlled.

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Now in the process of declaring bankruptcy, Sargsyan once led a sumptuous lifestyle: a law office on Rodeo Drive, a mansion in Calabasas and a Rolls Royce Phantom to ferry him between the two, according to a person who knew him well and requested anonymity for fear of retaliation.

A Southern California petroleum mogul whose enormous fortune was long suspected of being criminally derived was convicted in Utah federal court of fraud and money laundering.

Sargsyan oversaw Dermen’s hard-money lending operation, SBK Holdings USA, but the two are now bitter enemies. Sargsyan cooperated with federal authorities investigating Dermen’s role in a $511-million tax credit fraud, according to court filings in Dermen’s case. Convicted last month of 10 felony counts, Dermen faces what could amount to a life sentence.

“We knew Edgar was committing fraud when we sued him,” said Mark Geragos, Dermen’s longtime attorney. Dermen filed the suit in 2016, alleging Sargsyan stole tens of millions of dollars in property and a private jet. “This is just the final nail in the coffin.”

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Dermen was close with two law enforcement officers: John Saro Balian, a detective for the Glendale Police Department, and Felix Cisneros Jr., a Homeland Security Investigations agent who worked undercover narcotics operations. Balian and Cisneros were convicted of public corruption offenses and sentenced to 21 and 12 months, respectively, in prison.

The FBI agent charged last week, Babak Broumand, ran Cisneros’ and Dermen’s names in restricted law enforcement databases, according to an affidavit supporting charges against Broumand. The queries showed both men were the subjects of ongoing investigations, the affidavit said.

Broumand retired last year after a 20-year career at the bureau. Prior to his departure, he was assigned to the FBI office in San Francisco, trusted with recruiting sources for investigations into national security matters. It was unclear from court records whether he’d retained an attorney.


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