Feds Probe California Cop for Alleged Mexican Mafia Ties

John Saro Balian
Balian on right/Glendale PD

A California narcotics officer arrested in May for suspected ties with the Mexican Mafia and Armenian organized crime is now facing additional charges after federal prosecutors filed one count each of soliciting a bribe, obstructing justice by helping a contact avoid arrest, and making false statements to investigators.

The new charges were reported by the Los Angeles Times. The additional charges signal that sides are negotiating a plea deal.

John Saro Balian, 45, a veteran police officer and a 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. He was taken into custody without incident at his home on May 15. According to Paul Delacourt, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles field office, “Mr. Balian moved in criminal circles and operated as though he was above the law by repeatedly lying to hide his criminal activity,” and further said “His alleged actions impeded legitimate investigations into organized violent crime and consequently presented a threat to public safety.”

According to court records, Bailian requested time to negotiate a plea agreement. It is unclear if Balian is cooperating with prosecutors to build cases against others. A federal judge ordered Balian permanently detained, calling him a flight risk and a danger because of his alleged ties to criminals, participation in extortion schemes, and witness intimidation, according to court records. He is being held in protective custody.

During the investigation, three confidential informants provided authorities with information about alleged interactions with the detective.

According to the affidavit, Balian offered a tip about a gang sweep, allowing a top target in a federal racketeering case to flee before agents arrived. In another case, an informant alleged Balian gave him locations of marijuana grow and drug stash houses and told him to “hit them” before law enforcement could execute search warrants.

Balian also allegedly gave the informant names of people to extort and communicated using “burners,” cellphones they used only with each other for no more than a month at a time.

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 Balian agreed to track down the person responsible in exchange for $10,000, partly paid up front, 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.

Investigators corroborated some of the informants’ stories with cellphone records, police reports, and interviews.

Robert Arce is a retired Phoenix Police detective with extensive experience working Mexican organized crime and street gangs. Arce has worked in the Balkans, Iraq, Haiti, and recently completed a three-year assignment in Monterrey, Mexico, working out of the Consulate for the United States Department of State, International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Program, where he was the Regional Program Manager for Northeast Mexico (Coahuila, Tamaulipas, Nuevo Leon, Durango, San Luis Potosi, Zacatecas.) You can follow him on Twitter. He can be reached at robertrarce@gmail.com

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