Detective who once sued for discrimination had ties to Armenian organized crime, Mexican Mafia, officials say

John Balian is charged with making false statements to investigators.

May 16, 2018, 8:49 PM
A Glendale police office appears in this photo, Jan. 27, 2005.
A Glendale police office appears in this photo, Jan. 27, 2005.
Ted Soqui/Corbis via Getty Images, FILE

A Los Angeles-area detective who once sued his department for allegedly discriminating against him because of his Armenian heritage was arrested this week for trying to conceal suspected ties to the notorious Armenian mob.

Federal officials say that John Balian, a 45-year-old veteran narcotics detective, repeatedly lied to several law enforcement agencies during interviews conducted last year. On Tuesday, he was charged with making false statements to investigators regarding his ties to both the Armenian organized crime and the Mexican Mafia.

In a court document filed on Monday, three confidential informants told authorities that Balian was involved in a variety of criminal activities going as far back as 2015, including car theft, drug trafficking and fraud.

“The defendant swore to uphold an oath to enforce the law, but instead chose to break the law,” said Paul Delacourt, the assistant director of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office, in a press release. “Mr. Balian moved in criminal circles and operated as though he was above the law by repeatedly lying to hide his criminal activity and that of others. His alleged actions impeded legitimate investigations into organized violent crime and consequently presented a threat to public safety.”

The informants said that Balian used “burner” phones, disposable cellphones that are more difficult to trace, to communicate with a number of gang members, including Jose Loza, a notorious member of the Mexican Mafia. He is also accused of accepting bribes to help criminals evade arrest by tipping off gangsters to impending federal raids.

In 2010, Balian was one of five Armenian-American police officers who filed a joint lawsuit against the city of Glendale in Los Angeles County and the Glendale Police Department, alleging discrimination, retaliation and harassment, according to The Los Angeles Times. The lawsuit was later settled after the city agreed to pay agreed to pay $7,500 in Balian's attorney's fees, as well as deposit 50 hours of vacation time and 250 hours of sick time into his leave bank, the Times reported. The city reached settlements with three of the other officers, while a jury rejected the fourth officer's claims, according to the Times.

The FBI's Eurasian Organized Crime Task Force listed Balian as a person of interest in 2016, and the court document filed Monday includes text message excerpts between Balian and one of the informants exchanged as early as last year.

The text messages appear to show that Balian promised to help hunt down a guy who had allegedly burglarized the home of one of the informants, in exchange for a $10,000 payment.

“I told you I'm working on things,” reads one of the text messages, dated March 5, 2017. “But I'm not a magician. You have to wait, you got yourself involved with these guys.”

Informants also said that Balian offered one of them $100,000 to “scare” an individual and that he instructed one of them to go rob another Armenian man.

When asked about his work with one of the informants, Balian reportedly said “there is nothing like that, absolutely nothing,” adding "I'm not f------ on anybody's payroll."

Balian was taken into custody at his at his home in Seal Beach, California, on Tuesday. His attorney, Marc S. Nurik, did not immediately respond to a request for comments.

If convicted, Balian faces up to five years in federal prison.