Felix Cisneros Jr. was a highly decorated federal agent in 2015. He was well-known in his San Bernardino field office for working on major narcotics and money laundering cases, often undercover.
“He had many major drug seizures, money seizures, and he had a very good reputation as a heavy-hitting agent,” a colleague recalled.
He was also in a lot of debt.
According to testimony given at Cisneros’ federal court trial this month, with his credit cards maxed out and his home in jeopardy, he agreed to look up a person in a government database in exchange for a $30,000 bribe.
Prosecutors claimed that this was the beginnings of a shady relationship between Cisneros and Edgar Sargsyan, a Beverly Hills attorney who rubbed elbows with celebrities, politicians, organized crime leaders, and law enforcement officers.
Cisneros, 48, was found guilty of 30 counts of bribery, conspiracy to commit bribery, money laundering, and tax evasion by a jury on Tuesday. As the verdict was given, he exhibited no reaction.
Despite his lawyer’s protests, U.S. District Judge Gary Klausner ordered Cisneros to be taken into custody immediately rather than surrender when he is sentenced on August 1. Cisneros was carried away with his wrists tied to his waist after removing his tie, belt, and jacket and handing them to his counsel.
The claim that a Glendale cop betrayed his partner and orchestrated a 2016 attack has yet to be substantiated.
The agent’s weeklong trial provided a window into a circle of Armenian organized crime figures who lavished money and other perks on corrupt lawmen in exchange for information and protection — trips to Las Vegas, lavish meals, flights on private jets, liquor and cigars in smokey, members-only lounges.
Cisneros was born and raised in La Puente and spent four years in the Army before joining US Customs and Border Protection in 1996. He became a special agent with Homeland Security Investigations, an agency of the Department of Homeland Security, after a decade as a Border Patrol agent.
Cisneros met Levon Termendzhyan, an Armenian immigrant who had amassed a fortune through a chain of gas stations, fuel docks, and truck stops, around 2008.
After being convicted of offenses related to assisting Termendzhyan’s business partner reenter the country after traveling to Mexico to arrange a deal with Pemex, the state oil firm, Cisneros would serve a year in federal prison.
In 2011, while celebrating his 30th birthday in Las Vegas, Termendzhyan introduced Cisneros to Sargsyan, who later testified at Cisneros’ trial.
Sargsyan remembered Termendzhyan stating, “This is our friend.” “He’s the Homeland Security Director.”
Sargsyan said that he did not ask Cisneros to utilize his access to strictly guarded government databases in exchange for money until five years later.
In a federal court in Utah, a Southern California petroleum magnate whose vast fortune had long been suspected of being earned illegally was found guilty of fraud and money laundering.
Sargsyan has pleaded guilty to five charges, including bank fraud, bribing Cisneros and an FBI agent, and lying repeatedly to federal authorities, in exchange for a lower sentence.
Sargsyan told jurors how he utilized Glendale Police Department narcotics detective John Saro Balian to pass communications to Cisneros. His first request was to check a federal immigration database for a colleague, a German man, to learn why he had been denied a visa.
Cisneros discovered the man had been convicted of a drug-related crime in Germany years before, and with the help of Balian, offered to erase any record of the offense for $30,000, according to Sargsyan.
Sargsyan testified that Cisneros later gave him two printouts that seemed to be from a government database, a “before and after.” “‘Look at the difference,’ he replied. “This isn’t here any longer,” Sargsyan added, pointing to several letters or codes that weren’t in the second paper. He recalled Cisneros saying, “It’s cleared.”
Sargsyan said that he withdrew $30,000, delivered it to Balian, and directed him to give the money to Cisneros when the German man wired $85,000 to his Beverly Hills legal company.
Sargsyan said that he learnt from Balian shortly after that Cisneros was in debt and on the verge of losing his home. According to him, the Glendale detective relayed an offer from the agent: if Sargsyan paid off his credit cards, Cisneros would continue to assist him using his access to government databases.
According to evidence given at trial, Sargsyan paid off more than $93,000 of Cisneros’ obligations over the next 11 months.
Cisneros’ lawyer, George Mgdesyan, maintained that the payments were a loan that Cisneros intended to repay once his credit was repaired and his property was refinanced. Sargsyan initially told FBI agents the same thing before altering his tale in 2019 and claiming the funds were bribes.
Prosecutors claimed that Cisneros did everything was asked of him in exchange for the money. “Anytime Edgar Sargsyan said, ‘Jump,’ he said, ‘How high?'” Michael Morse, an assistant US attorney, told the jury.
Cisneros sent Sargsyan a text message in 2016, according to Morse: “God and the feds are both watching over you,” the agent wrote.
According to insiders, a Beverly Hills lawyer is at the core of an FBI agent corruption controversy.
When an FBI agent was accused with accepting bribes, the question loomed: who was the lawyer who told investigators he handed the agent money in exchange for information?
Sargsyan reached out to Cisneros through Balian again in 2016 while his brother-in-law was in Tijuana attempting to enter the United States after being denied a visa. “Just to get him excited, so to speak,” Sargsyan told jurors, he paid Cisneros $2,000 to $3,000 in cash.
Cisneros wrote a letter alleging that his brother-in-law, Davit Kankanyan, was a narcotics informant and needed to be admitted to the nation. His supervisor approved the request once he submitted it to him. It was ultimately disallowed by an immigration agent at the border.
Sargsyan heard the same year that investigators had raided the home of a man with whom he had been operating a huge identity theft scheme, in which they had taken out credit cards and bank loans in the identities of foreign students studying in the United States.
Sargsyan was concerned that he, too, was being investigated. He said that he “immediately reached out to my law enforcement people that I had around me,” revealing how he contacted Cisneros and Babak Broumand, an FBI agent stationed in San Francisco at the time. Broumand was charged with accepting bribes from Sargsyan and has pleaded not guilty.
Cisneros, according to Sargsyan, presented him a paper that detailed why the case was opened: Someone had hired a car under one of the visa holders’ names and had not paid the lease. The vehicle had previously been reported stolen.
Sargsyan stated he paid Cisneros between $15,000 and $20,000 in cash for his assistance.
Sargsyan said he feted Cisneros, Balian, and Broumand in Las Vegas, in addition to making cash payments and paying his creditors. According to testimony and images presented to the jury, he flew with the cops to an adult entertainment convention in January 2016, then returned four months later to witness Manny Pacquiao fight Timothy Bradley III at the MGM from ringside seats.
According to authorities, Sargsyan escorted the guys to nightclubs that weekend, spending $17,000 at one and $19,000 at another. Dinner at Nobu in Caesar’s Palace cost him $6,300.
He explained, “I was making money.” “I didn’t mind paying.”
Cisneros’ lawyer, Mgdesyan, argued that Sargsyan was a liar and a robber who changed his tale once he learned he was going to prison. Mgdesyan said he will do and say “anything he can” to keep himself out of the country, including lying under oath and making false allegations against former acquaintances.
If Cisneros was guilty of anything, Mgdesyan said, “he chose the wrong person to consider a friend.”
Mgdesyan maintained that any names Cisneros entered into a database or other activities he performed as a law enforcement agent were done at the behest of Balian, with whom Cisneros had cooperated on genuine narcotics investigations for years.
Balian was accused with charges unconnected to Cisneros or Sargsyan’s connection. He decided to cooperate with the authorities and served 21 months in prison after pleading guilty to receiving a bribe, lying to federal officials, and obstructing justice.
Mgdesyan questioned why Balian, whom prosecutors described as an unindicted co-conspirator, was not called to testify before the jury. Mgdesyan stated that only the ex-detective could accurately describe the exact nature of the relationship between himself, Sargsyan, and Cisneros.