An ex-Glendale police detective who took bribes from the Mexican Mafia and Armenian organized crime in exchange for information and then lied to investigators about his criminal connections was sentenced Friday to nearly two years in federal prison.
John Saro Balian, 46, of Seal Beach, must also pay a $60,000 fine and serve three years of supervised release following his 21-month prison term.
U.S. District Judge John F. Walter said Balian “made a conscious decision to turn to a life of crime,” choosing to subvert law enforcement in order to show he was “loyal to the Mexican Mafia.”
“This fact alone deserves a significant prison sentence,” Walter said from the bench.
Balian, who pleaded guilty last July to felony charges of bribery, obstruction of justice and making false statements, has been held in solitary confinement at a downtown federal lockup since his May 2018 arrest.
The defendant’s attorney, Craig Missakian, argued that based on his client’s “long and distinguished record” of service, he deserved no further time in custody and should instead be set free and ordered to complete a period of community service.
But the judge countered that an excellent work record was part of any law officer’s job description and Balian’s helpfulness to the community “pales in comparison with his very serious criminal conduct.”
Walter added that a reduction in Balian’s sentencing range based on “cooperation” was unwarranted since such efforts “led to nothing.”
In court papers, the defense had requested that Walter schedule an evidentiary hearing to explore the “untested claims” of an unnamed confidential informant against Balian. The judge denied the request after finding that the informant’s allegations were “unreliable” and said he would not consider the claims when fashioning Balian’s sentence.
Missakian pleaded poverty on behalf of his client, telling the court that Balian is nearly bankrupt and has “lost everything, except for his family” as a result of the case.
But the judge quickly pointed out that Balian had not lost his “one-third interest” in the family’s gas station, which “generates some decent income.”
After a career with the Glendale and Montebello police departments, Balian began working on behalf of gang members sometime in 2015, according to prosecutors.
In his plea, Balian admitted lying to investigators about his ties to Jose Loza, described by prosecutors as a Mexican Mafia member and shot caller for a Santa Fe Springs street gang. Loza is awaiting trial on federal racketeering charges.
Balian also relayed inside information about planned raids at marijuana grows, instructing a gang contact to get rid of evidence before law enforcement executed search warrants. He also tipped off a second gang shot caller of a pending raid, allowing the Mexican Mafia member to escape authorities for more than a month.
A onetime spokesman for the Glendale Police Department, Balian 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.
In a statement to the court, Balian did not answer Walter’s question of exactly why he turned to crime, telling the judge that he didn’t “wake up one day” and decide to go bad. Instead, the defendant said, “I didn’t have the courage to say no when someone asked me for a favor.”