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Jury Convicts Ex-FBI Agent of Bribery, Conspiracy in Armenian Organized Crime Scheme — But Lets Him Keep House near Lake Tahoe

A photo shows John Saro Balian (left), Felix Cisneros (center), and Babak Broumand (right).

John Saro Balian (left), Felix Cisneros (center), and Babak Broumand (right) were photographed in Las Vegas in January 2016. (Image via a U.S. Attorney’s Office evidence exhibit.)

A federal jury on Tuesday convicted a former FBI agent of conspiracy and bribery charges for passing law enforcement information to a corrupt lawyer with admitted ties to an international organized crime syndicate.

Babak Broumand, 56, was jailed after the verdict was read in downtown Los Angeles, though jurors gave him a win by rejecting a bid by prosecutors to force him to forfeit his $2.5 million vacation home in Lake Tahoe.

But the convictions are enough to put Broumand in prison for at least several years: one count of conspiracy, two counts of bribery of a public official, and one count of monetary transactions in property derived from specified unlawful activity. He was acquitted of one additional bribery charge and one additional monetary transaction charge.

Broumand’s lawyer, Steven F. Gruel, told Law&Crime he’ll ask that the veteran FBI agent be released from jail as he appeals the convictions.

“He has to be deemed a flight risk or a danger and he’s really neither. And that’s what we have to tell the 9th Circuit,” Gruel said. “We’re disappointed, but we’re not defeated. This is basically Round 1 of a fight.”

It was a big round, with jurors hearing about nine days of testimony that detailed Broumand’s relationship with key prosecution witness Edgar Sargasyan, a licensed California attorney who told federal agents shortly before trial that he’d paid someone to take the state bar examination for him in 2016.

The revelation led U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner to delay the trial a week to give Gruel time to factor it into his case. It also led to a motion for new trial for former Homeland Security Investigations agent Felix Cisneros Jr., who is scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 17 after a jury in May convicted him of 30 felonies related to a similar bribery scheme with Sargasyan.

Sargasyan was a key witness against Cisneros, but he hadn’t told prosecutors yet that he’d fraudulently obtained his law license, so it never came up in trial. Sargasyan also was a witness in grand jury proceedings in Utah federal court that led to the indictment of Levon Termendzhyan, alias Lev Aslan Dermen, for a $1 billion renewable fuel tax credit fraud scheme connected to Utah polygamists.

“He’s opened up a pandora’s box, that’s for sure,” Gruel said Tuesday.

With several motions already pending, Dermen’s lawyer Mark Geragos told Law&Crime he plans to file a motion for new trial based on the new information about Sargasyan’s fraudulently obtained law license.

“It’s clear that this guy has just been a one-man lying machine,” Geragos said Tuesday.

Sargasyan could not be reached for comment on Tuesday. He’s been allowed to stay out of jail since pleading guilty in July 2020 to five federal felonies related to the scheme, and his sentencing has not yet been scheduled.

Federal authorities celebrated Broumand’s convictions in a press release, with new Central District of California U.S. Attorney Martin Estrada saying Broumand “breached the public trust placed in him and violated his oath of office, something which simply cannot be tolerated.”

Don Alway, the FBI’s assistant director in Los Angeles, said Broumand “chose greed over integrity and turned his back on the oath he swore to uphold.” Tuesday’s verdict “is proof that the FBI will root out corruption of any kind, to include veteran agents within its ranks.”

Broumand’s indictment accused him of helping Sargasyan avoid “detection and monitoring” by providing secret information from federal databases in exchange for cash and gifts from Sargasyan, including escorts, a Ducati motorcycle and flights on a private jet flights on a private jet — including one to Las Vegas that featured in photographs used as prosecution evidence. Prosecutors said the crimes occurred between 2015 and 2018 while Broumand was assigned to an FBI national security team in San Francisco.

Former police detective John Saro Balian (left), former Homeland Security Investigations agent Felix Cisneros (center), and former FBI agent Babak Broumand (right) were at the Grand Havana Room in Beverly Hills, California, in May 2016. Balian pleaded guilty to obstruction and bribery charges in 2018, and a jury convicted Cisneros of 30 felonies in May 2022 for a bribery and money laundering scheme. Broumand’s trial began Sept. 20, 2022, in Los Angeles federal court. (Image via a U.S. Attorney’s Office trial exhibit.)

Some of Sargasyan’s requests to Broumand were on Dermen’s behalf, prosecutors said, and related to an Armenian organized crime scheme with which Sargasyan also was involved.

“Specifically, Broumand informed E.S. whether a particular person or entity was under criminal investigation by stating that E.S. should ‘stay away’ from that person or that they were ‘OK,'” according to the press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles.

To try to cover his tracks, prosecutors say Broumand falsely portrayed Sargasyan as an FBI source and wrote false repots to try to cast his use of the databases as legitimate.

Most of Broumand’s bribes — valued at about $150,000 — were paid by Sargasyan in cash, according to prosecutors, sans one $30,000 payment he received as a cashier’s check payable to a hair lice treatment business he owned with his wife called Love Bugs LLC.

Gruel told Law&Crime he focused heavily on Sargasyan’s law license fraud and other lies in his cross-examination, calling him “a serial liar.”

Geragos said the jurors’ collective decision to acquit Broumand of two counts and reject the Lake Tahoe home forfeiture request shows they probably didn’t like Sargasyan being the key witness. Informant witnesses “have always come with a lot of baggage,” Geragos said, “but this was a bridge too far.”

In Dermen’s case, Geragos said prosecutors promoted Sargasyan’s status as a lawyer as a credibility booster to the grand jury. His law credentials were always in question, as Geragos said he never claims to have attended a law school in the United States.

“I said form day one:  this guy does not appear to have any legal education or semblance of schooling whatsoever — he was fraud form the get go,” Geragos said. “This guy is the gift that just keeps on giving to criminal defendants everywhere.”

The first law enforcement officer convicted in connection with the scheme was John Saro Balian, a former Glendale police detective sentenced in 2019 to 18 months in prison.

Broumand is being prosecuted by assistant U.S. attorneys Ruth C. Pinkel, Michael J. Morse and Juan M. Rodriguez.

Read Cisnero Jr.’s motion for a new trial below.

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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.