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March 14, 2020

Lev Dermen trial goes to jury

Posted: Saturday, March 14, 2020. 8:50 am CST.

By Aaron Humes: Eight men and four women are to resume deliberations Monday after getting the case of Levon Termendzhyan, 53, alias Lev Dermen, gas station owner turned accused fraudster, on Thursday in Salt Lake City, Utah.

The trial has drawn interest in Belize because of a revelation by one of its key witnesses, Jacob Kingston. The businessman has already pleaded guilty to more than three dozen charges and agreed to testify in exchange for a prison sentence of no more than 30 years.

Kingston testified in early February that at Dermen’s behest, he participated in providing regular payments to then-Minister of National Security John Saldivar. Kingston provided a text message stream as evidence, in which he and someone alleged to be Saldivar discussed a payment due in February of 2014, which the latter agrees to come and pick up in Miami, Florida. The writer mentions that several colleagues need financial assistance for their political conventions.

Saldivar, who was running for leadership of the United Democratic Party (UDP) at the time, later gave up that leadership and his ministerial portfolio while vowing to clear his name. He insists that he was not bribed and did no favours for those involved in exchange for the money, and that he spent it in programs for his constituency. He also charged that others are hypocritically hiding their financial associations. He has also otherwise directly questioned Kingston’s testimony.

U.S. Federal prosecutors spent seven weeks trying to convince the jury that Dermen was the mastermind behind a scheme to steal money from a federal biofuel program and launder that cash, writes Nate Carlisle of the Salt Lake Tribune. After closing arguments on Wednesday and Thursday, the choice for jurors is to be persuaded either by the multiple witnesses, bank records and correspondence showing Lev Aslan Dermen knew there was and participated in such a scheme, or they can be suspicious of the polygamous family members who started the fraud in the first place.

Dermen is charged with two counts of conspiracy and eight counts of money laundering related to a fraud at the Utah biofuel firm Washakie Renewable Energy and faces up to 180 years in prison. Prosecutors have said the company applied for more than $1.1 billion from a federal program for alternative energy and received $471 million illegally, the Tribune writes.

The Tribune says defence attorney Mark Geragos, in his closing statement, contended prosecutors had put on an excellent case against the Kingston family, but not against his client.

“It’s almost as if [prosecutors] had a script,” Geragos said, “and they had a plan to try the case against the Kingstons, and they forgot the Kingstons aren’t on trial.”

Geragos contended Kingston and other witnesses have changed their stories to receive favorable deals from the government. The lawyer told the jury to disregard the testimony of Zubair Kazi, who did business with Dermen and Kingston and has not been charged with any crimes.

Four money laundering counts originate with an $11.2 million loan Washakie gave Kazi, who testified Dermen instructed him to repay the loan to Dermen rather than to Washakie. Geragos pointed out that a long-running dispute Kazi had with the IRS over $149 million was settled when prosecutors were building their case against Dermen and Washakie.

“Does he have a motive [to lie]?” Geragos said, according to the Tribune. “He has 149 million motives.”


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