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This is the photo of a staged murder by L.A. federal agents, fake blood and all

A court exhibit photo shows a man with fake blood on his shirt pretending to be dead.
An exhibit from a U.S. District Court document shows a staged photograph that was used by authorities in the case against Arthur Aslanian, accused of a plot to kill two business associates. This photo was staged and the man was not injured.
(U.S. District Court)
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In the photo, the seemingly lifeless body of a well-dressed, gray-haired banker is splayed out on a patch of grass. There is an apparent bullet wound by his right ear and blood has stained his white shirt.

But the man was alive and well.

The photo, filed in court by federal prosecutors last month, was of a staged murder — the coup de grace in a ruse federal agents used to catch a Los Angeles real estate developer whom they suspected of plotting to kill two men.

Arthur Aslanian stands outside in a T-shirt.
Arthur Aslanian stands outside an apartment complex he owns during a fire this year.
(The Hartsook Tenant Assn.)

“That’s him,” the developer, Arthur Aslanian, said when his assistant, who was secretly recording the conversation for investigators, showed him the photo as proof one of the men had been killed. Aslanian then told the assistant to destroy the photograph and never speak about the murder again, according to federal prosecutors.

Aslanian was arrested the same day, charged with planning to kill the business associate in the photograph, as well as an attorney who had once represented him in a bankruptcy case. Prosecutors allege Aslanian opted to have the men killed instead of paying the millions of dollars he owed to the associate and a smaller debt to his former lawyer.

After his arrest, Aslanian was ordered held without bail at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Los Angeles and the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles had kept the photo of the staged murder under wraps as his case got underway.

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But that changed when Aslanian’s defense attorneys put together a multimillion-dollar bond package meant to secure his release as he awaited trial. Prosecutors included the photo, a potentially powerful piece of evidence, in court papers objecting to Aslanian’s release.

“It was real to him. He wanted [the victim] dead and was satisfied when the murder appeared to have been accomplished,” prosecutors wrote.

Aslanian’s attorneys countered that he was unfairly entrapped by agents from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives who zealously pushed the murder-for-hire plot on him and his assistant, Sesar Rivera, who opted to cooperate with the government after being caught.

For the record:

8:21 p.m. Dec. 16, 2022A previous version of this article misspelled attorney Melanie Killedjian’s last name as Killedjean and left out the first name of Sesar Rivera.

“The evidence clearly demonstrates that Mr. Aslanian was not the driving force behind the alleged conduct and that every time Mr. Aslanian called it off.... the Government pushed it forward,” wrote Aslanian’s attorneys Melanie Killedjian and Michael Freedman in a Nov. 16 bail memorandum.

“Defendant’s argument of a vast conspiracy to entrap defendant orchestrated by the government, his co-defendants, and a cooperating witness is not a legal defense to his crimes and is wholly belied by video evidence showing defendant’s knowledge of, participation in, and direction of the murder-for-hire plot from the start,” wrote federal prosecutors in response on Nov. 23.

Prosecutors argued that Aslanian’s release would leave his alleged targets — who were both informed of the plot — in danger.

“The terror that would be inflicted... if Aslanian were to be released pending trial is significant,” wrote one of the targets of the murder-for-hire plot, Mark Young, in a statement to the judge.

An attorney sits at a table.
Mark Young, 67, was one of the alleged targets in a murder-for-hire plot.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
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Young — Aslanian’s former bankruptcy attorney — added that Aslanian’s release would jeopardize the “safety and sanity of my family and work colleagues.”

Despite the plea from Young and prosecutors, U.S. District Judge Fernando Olguin agreed to release Aslanian on a $1.9-million bond, saying the government had failed to prove that Aslanian was a risk of flight or a danger to the community.

He added that Aslanian appeared to try to delay the murder plot at certain points.

“It appears that defendant tried to stop or at least delay the scheme, but the government and cooperating witness pressed on, ignoring his directions,” wrote Olguin in his decision to release Aslanian last week.

Prosecutors immediately appealed the decision, but Aslanian was released Dec. 5.

There is currently no date set for the appeal to be heard.

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