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Corrupt Fed Who Helped Armenian Crime Boss Sentenced After Judge Rejects New Trial Bid over Lawyer’s Bar Exam Fraud

Felix Cisneros in a suit next to a mug shot of Lev Dermen

Felix Cisneros and Lev Dermen (U.S. Attorney’s Office exhibit and government booking photo)

A former Homeland Security Investigations agent who prosecutors say was “cut-off financially” by the crime boss he’d been helping has been sentenced to spend about 10 years in federal prison for a bribery scheme with a corrupt lawyer.

Felix J. Cisneros, 48, avoided the additional two years in prison requested by prosecutors, with U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner imposing 121 months instead of the 145 months they wanted. A jury in May convicted Cisneros of 30 felonies, including of conspiring to bribe himself as a public official, and he’s currently in custody in Los Angeles.

A U.S. Attorney’s Office sentencing memorandum said the roughly 12-year recommended sentence, which was at the upper-end of the U.S. Sentencing Commission guidelines, was warranted because of Cisneros’ “long-term association with Levon Termendzhyan and his family.”

“Rather than build upon this strong family foundation and excellent work ethic, defendant turned to a life of crime in a manner that violates the public trust in law enforcement,” according to the 11-page memo.

Klausner, a 2002 George W. Bush appointee who presided over Cisneros’ trial and is handling a related case involving a retired FBI Special Agent Babak Broumand, declined the recommendation, which Cisneros’ lawyer, George Mgdesyan, said in his memo “is vastly excessive and simply defies logic.”

Still, the judge didn’t go nearly as lenient as Mgdesyan’s 41-month recommendation, imposing a 10-year, one-month sentence that consists consists of 85 months for conspiracy to bribe a public official, 121 months for bribery of a public official and 27 counts of money laundering, and 36 months for two counts of false tax returns, all to be served concurrently.

The sentencing follows Klausner rejecting a new trial request Mgdesyan filed over a new revelation that a key witness in Cisneros trial, Edgar Sargasyan, fraudulently obtained by California State Bar law license by paying someone to take the examination for him. Sargasyan told federal agents about it shortly before trial was to begin for Broumand, a longtime FBI agent and close associate of Termendzhyan who was convicted in October of helping Sargsyan access confidential law information. The cheating wasn’t yet known when he testified against Cisneros, but Klausner rejected Mgdesyan’s argument that it was so unfair as to warrant a new trial for Cisneros.

“The jury already knew that E.S. [Sargasyan] is a criminal who used deception and bribery to accomplish his aims,” Klausner wrote in an Oct. 18 order.

Cisneros was first charged criminally in 2017, eventually pleading guilty to a conspiracy to assist a foreign felon into the United States as well as falsification of records and making a false statement. It related to Cisneros’ relationship with Termendzhyan, and the felon he was helping into the country using his federal credentials was an associate of Termendzhyan, a Los Angeles biodiesel businessman described by by the U.S. Department of Justice as an Armenian organized crime boss.

Also known as Lev Aslan Dermen, Termendzhyan is awaiting sentencing in Utah federal court after a jury convicted him in March 2020 of a $1 billion renewable fuel tax credit fraud scheme connected to a Mormon fundamentalist polygamist group.

The career-ending case sent Cisneros to prison for a year and day, but as prosecutors explained in their memo, it didn’t steer him from Termendzhyan.

After he left prison, Cisneros took a job with an energy company owned by Termendzhyan’s brother that shares an address in the city of Commerce, near Los Angeles, with Termendzhyan’s Noil Energy Group Inc., which was at the center of his fraud scheme, along with Washakie Renewable Energy and its chief executive officer, Jacob Kingston, and his brother, Isaiah Kingston, its chief financial officer. Both have pleaded guilty in the same fraud case in which a jury convicted Termendzhyan.

A Bugatti and a Ferrari parked outside a large home

A U.S. Attorney’s Office evidentiary photo of Jacob Kingston’s home at 2072 E. Creek Road in Cottonwood Heights, Utah, with a Bugatti and a Ferrari parked out front. Prosecutors in a March 2020 press release said Kingston used some of his fraud proceeds to buy Lev Dermen “a 2010 Bugatti Veyron, and they exchanged gifts including a chrome Lamborghini and a gold Ferrari.”

Cisneros’ relationship with Termendzhyan is complicated, court documents show. Prosecutors say he was “pushed away and cut-off financially by Termendzhyan” when he sought money from Sargasyan in fall 2015.

Cisneros “was living far beyond his means and had thousands of dollars of credit card bills every month,” according to the memo from assistant U.S. attorneys Ruth C. Pinkel, Michael J. Morse and Juan M. Rodriguez.

Sargasyan didn’t disappoint him: Prosecutors say he “richly rewarded” the federal agent “with at least $40,000 in cash and over $93,000 in payments directly to credit card companies, mortgage companies, the federal Thrift Savings plan (to re-pay defendant’s TSP loan), and to defendant’s wife.”

But Cisneros’ ties to Termendzhyan weren’t severed, as prosecutors say is evidenced through his post-prison job with Termendzhyan’s brother’s company. Sargsyan also had close ties to Termendzhyan, and he was using both Cisneros and Broumand to try to fend off law enforcement investigations.

“During the most egregious conduct, defendant obtained a parole letter, which is used by law enforcement to admit an otherwise inadmissible alien for a law enforcement need, under false pretenses,” according to the prosecution’s memo. “Defendant represented to multiple law enforcement personnel, including the then Acting Special Agent in Charge, that defendant was seeking to admit the foreign National because the foreign National was going to assist DHS; defendant listed himself as the agent responsible for the submission.”

Another law enforcement officer connected to the corruption, John Saro Balian, a former police officer in the Los Angeles County suburb of Glendale, was sentenced in 2019 to 18 months in prison after pleading guilty to bribery, obstruction and false statements charges related to inside information he provided to the Mexican Mafia and his lies to federal agents about his relations to the Mafia as well as organized crime connected to the Armenian Mafia.

Sargasyan testified in Cisneros’ trial that Balian, Cisneros and Broumand flew to Las Vegas on his private jet in 2016 and he “paid for everybody” because they “were law enforcement people,” according to the court documents. Further, Sargasyan testified that Balian, Ciseneros and Broumand joined him at the Grand Havana Room, a members-only cigar lounge in Beverly Hills, in May 2016 to celebrate his passing of the California bar exam.

That’s the exam Sargasyan later told federal agents he’d paid someone to take for him. His law license already was suspended after he pleaded guilty in July 2020 to five federal felonies. He is not in custody and has not been sentenced.

(Images: U.S. Attorney’s Office exhibit and government booking photo)

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A graduate of the University of Oregon, Meghann worked at The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington, and the Idaho Statesman in Boise, Idaho, before moving to California in 2013 to work at the Orange County Register. She spent four years as a litigation reporter for the Los Angeles Daily Journal and one year as a California-based editor and reporter for and associated publications such as The National Law Journal and New York Law Journal before joining Law & Crime News. Meghann has written for The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, Los Angeles Magazine, Bloomberg Law, ABA Journal, The Forward, Los Angeles Business Journal and the Laguna Beach Independent. Her Twitter coverage of federal court hearings in a lawsuit over homelessness in Los Angeles placed 1st in the Los Angeles Press Club's Southern California Journalism Awards for Best Use of Social Media by an Independent Journalist in 2021. An article she freelanced for Los Angeles Times Community News about a debate among federal judges regarding the safety of jury trials during COVID also placed 1st in the Orange County Press Club Awards for Best Pandemic News Story in 2021.