Glendale Police Detective Pleads Guilty to Obstruction, Lying to Feds About Ties to Organized Crime

Glendale police narcotics detective pleaded guilty this week to charges that he lied to federal investigators about his links to organized crime, accepted a bribe and obstructed justice by tipping off a top criminal target about an upcoming federal raid, helping him avoid arrest, court records show.

John Saro Balian, 45, of Seal Beach entered the plea Thursday as part of an agreement with prosecutors, according to court records. The agreement was sealed by the court.

Balian is scheduled to be sentenced in September.

His 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.

During the investigation, three confidential informants told authorities about troubling interactions with the detective, which were detailed in a 47-page affidavit by Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent Michael Hyland.

One of the informants was a St. Andrews (STA) gang member and an associate of the Mexican Mafia who in October spoke with the Los Angeles Police Department’s elite Robbery-Homicide Division from jail, where he was awaiting trial on an extortion charge. In the affidavit, Hyland said the informant probably provided information in the hopes that it would help him with pending state and federal criminal cases.

In one case the informant described, Balian allegedly offered a tip about a gang sweep, allowing a top target — a Frogtown gang member — in a federal racketeering case to flee before agents arrived.

“Tell your boy Bouncer that he’s the No. 1 on the list for tomorrow,” Balian allegedly warned, according to the affidavit. It took agents another month to arrest the target.

The informant also alleged that Balian gave him locations of marijuana grow and drug stash houses — information he was privy to as an officer — and told him to “hit them” before law enforcement could execute their search warrants, according to the affidavit.

Balian also allegedly gave the informant names of people to extort and instructed him to “slap around” people to persuade them to pay money. He allegedly told the informant, who is Latino, that Armenians would not respect or pay him if they didn’t fear him, the affidavit said.

The informant said he and Balian communicated using “burners,” cellphones they used only with each other for no more than a month at a time. On one of the informant’s phones, according to the filing, Balian’s burner number was saved in the contacts as “Bro.”

The informant alleged that in another incident that Balian offered him and a second man $100,000 to “scare” someone in Commerce, a request that led to a July 2016 shooting of an Armenian businessman’s bodyguard, the affidavit said.

The informant said he was unable to participate but loaned the second man his car. After the encounter, when the man returned the car, they spoke.

“I think I hit him,” the second man said, according to the filing. Later, he added, “I think I killed him.”

The alleged shooter gave the gun to the informant, who said he gave the gun to Balian, according to the filing.

A second informant who said he had known Balian since middle school told authorities that someone broke into his office in February 2017 and stole a significant amount of property. The informant alleged that Balian agreed to track down the person responsible in exchange for $10,000, partly paid up front, according to the affidavit.

The first informant, the gangster who spoke to authorities from jail, told authorities that Balian told him to rob the man the second informant paid him to hunt down.

“Go hit him. He has all the [expletive],” he recalled Balian saying, according to the affidavit.

When confronted by federal agents in four interviews over the last year, Balian lied about his ties to the Mexican Mafia and Armenian organized crime in Southern California, authorities said.

“I’m not [expletive] on anybody’s payroll,” he told the LAPD and FBI in one interview when they asked about the second informant.

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.”