A California narcotics detective tipped off members of the Mexican Mafia and Armenian organized crime groups to impending raids by federal officials – and even helped a top target evade arrest, authorities said Tuesday.
John Saro Balian, a 45-year-old veteran officer with the Glendale Police Department, is accused of lying to federal officials about his ties to crime groups in California. He was taken into custody without incident at his home Tuesday and is facing up to five years in federal prison.
“Mr. Balian moved in criminal circles and operated as though he was above the law by repeatedly lying to hide his criminal activity,” Paul Delacourt, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles field office, said in a statement, according to the Los Angeles Times. “His alleged actions impeded legitimate investigations into organized violent crime and consequently presented a threat to public safety.”
Balian 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.
According to the complaint, Balian was interviewed several times by federal agents last year where he repeatedly made false statements and misrepresentations about his alleged links to local criminal figures, including Jose Loza, a Mexican Mafia member and “shot-caller” for the Canta Ranas street gang.
Loza, who is facing federal racketeering charges, was communicating with Balian while in custody using burner cell phones to “discuss jointly undertaken criminal activities,” the complaint said.
In one interview with authorities, Balian reported said: “I’m not [expletive] on anybody’s payroll.”
However, three confidential informants painted a different picture.
The 47-page affidavit detailed cases in which Balian offered tips to gangsters-turned-informants about gang sweeps and even gave locations of marijuana grow and drug stash houses that were targeted by law enforcement.
“Cases involving corrupt public officials – and particularly those involving crimes allegedly committed by police officers – are among the most difficult and troubling matters we see,” U.S. Attorney Nicola T. Hanna, of the Central District of California, said in a statement. “If the allegations in this case are proven, this police officer provided meaningful support to criminal enterprises, and his attempts to cover up his associations served to obstruct justice.”