Posted: Saturday, February 22, 2020. 6:36 pm CST.
By Aaron Humes: This week the Los Angeles Times looked at the California angle of the case of Lev Aslan Dermen, charged in Federal Court in Utah in an energy subsidy scam that allegedly bilked the U.S. Treasury of $511 million.
Writer, Matthew Ormseth, tells the story of John Saro Balian, a decorated detective in the Montebello and later Glendale, California, Police Department, and a key associate of Dermen for a decade who, it is alleged, turned on him and admitted last year to taking a US $2,000 bribe, tipping a former Mexican Mafia associate to his impending arrest, and lying to federal agents about his “criminal business relationship” with another, among other falsehoods. He served just 21 months in prison.
The men first met in 2006 while Dermen was awaiting trial for assault of a Glendale detective. While no one knows exactly what went on, the men became close and Balian became a sort of a right-hand man for Dermen while continuing his policing career.
Balian, writes the Times, has been accused in multiple instances of working to silence and intimidate witnesses in cases against Dermen, but none of it has been proven. Similarly, Dermen’s own history has seen him beat multiple raps at Federal and State level until now. Balian was later accused in court testimony of setting up Dermen’s son to be shot at in 2016, which he has also denied.
Various law enforcement officials in Southern California, a judge in Turkey and government ministers in Belize, prosecutors wrote in a court filing, were seen to have taken money from Dermen as testified to by his former partner in Washakie Renewable Energy, Jacob Kingston.
Prosecutors say he offered – for millions – the security of “the umbrella” of lawmen and prominent officials to hide their misdeeds; whether it was true or not, they said, it was important for the Kingstons to believe in it. Mark Geragos, Dermen’s attorney, dismissed this account as a “fairy tale” concocted by government witnesses facing decades in prison.
Dermen is accused of conspiring with Jacob and Isaiah Kingston, leaders of a fundamentalist Mormon sect in Utah, to plunder a half-billion dollars in biofuel subsidies and stash the proceeds in Turkey.
Also mentioned in the Times’ story, in an aside, is John Saldivar, now former Minister of National Security and former party leader-elect of the United Democratic Party, in relation to those monies he now says he got as campaign contributions from Dermen through Kingston. He continues to maintain his innocence in relation to alleged bribery, influence-peddling and money laundering charges, citing the lack of any testimony from Kingston in relation to those. Investigations are underway here but must wait for the conclusion of the Dermen trial.
In the Utah case, prosecutors revealed text messages between the ex-minister and Kingston, in which Saldivar wrote he “really [needed] the February tranche,” and that the “usual is 25k but perhaps it’s best to deal with March at the same time.” Saldivar has said in a statement that this is not his exact recollection of their conversation and that the message records do not look right, but nonetheless acknowledges that he erred in not disclosing this before the party’s national convention on February 9, in which he widely defeated incumbent first-deputy Patrick Faber. The U.D.P. will meet next Saturday to plan for another national convention to fill the post ahead of general elections.
Dermen’s trial continues; if convicted on all counts, prosecutors say, he could spend the rest of his life in prison.
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