Federal prosecutors are recommending a three-year prison sentence for an ex-Glendale police detective who took bribes from organized crime members in exchange for inside information about upcoming gang raids, according to court documents obtained Tuesday.
John Saro Balian, 46, of Seal Beach, pleaded guilty last July to federal charges of bribery, obstruction of justice and lying to investigators looking into whether he had connections to the Mexican Mafia and Armenian organized crime.
U.S. District Judge John F. Walter set sentencing for March 8.
After a long career with the Glendale Police Department, Balian “made a conscious decision to turn to a life of crime and join forces with Armenian organized crime and the Mexican Mafia,” choosing to “subvert law enforcement, place other officers at risk, and live the life of a gang member,” prosecutors wrote in sentencing papers filed late Monday in Los Angeles federal court.
Defense sentencing recommendations were not made public and Balian’s attorney, Craig Missakian, declined to comment.
Along with the 36-month prison term, federal prosecutors are asking that Balian be ordered to pay a $95,000 fine.
Balian, a former spokesman for the Glendale Police Department, was terminated from the agency following his guilty plea.
Quoting from a report prepared by U.S. probation and pretrial services, prosecutors wrote that the ex-detective functioned as “an active gang member” while wearing a badge. “He kept watch for criminals, acted on their behalf, and profited from criminal activity,” according to the report.
Balian admitted lying to investigators about his ties to organized crime members, including Jose Loza, described as a Mexican Mafia member and shot caller for a Santa Fe Springs street gang. Loza is currently awaiting trial on federal racketeering charges.
Around the time of an April 2017 interview with an FBI agent and Los Angeles police detectives, “Balian was communicating with Loza via a burner cell phone to discuss jointly undertaken criminal activities,” according to court papers filed before he entered his plea.
Balian also relayed inside information about planned raids at marijuana grows, instructing his contact to “hit them” before law enforcement executed search warrants, court papers state. He also warned gang members of a forthcoming probe, allowing one of the prime targets to escape federal authorities for more than a month.
An informant also reported that Balian was involved in various extortion plots and got rid of a gun used in a shooting, prosecutors said.
According to the sentencing memorandum, Balian’s two bank accounts showed cash deposits of about $146,000, of which about $97,000 was made into a joint account with a girlfriend, “as opposed to the account he used to support his wife and children.”
Balian was among five officers who sued the Glendale Police Department in 2010, alleging it discriminated against Armenian-American officers. A settlement was reached in the case.
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