L.A. con man who posed as attorney, rubbed elbows with Gov. Newsom is sentenced to 6 months

An admitted L.A. con artist who rubbed elbows with powerful politicians and presented himself as the right hand of a powerful Armenian crime figure was sentenced to six months in prison Monday, after spending years testifying against his former mentor and several corrupt law enforcement officials.

Edgar Sargsyan, 42, will serve the short prison sentence and then spend an additional six months confined to his home after his 2020 plea to four counts of bank fraud, bribery and lying to federal agents, according to his attorney, Robert Dugdale.

The public was barred from Sargsyan’s sentencing hearing in federal court on Monday, after Dugdale was heard expressing concerns about his client’s safety.

Sargsyan rose from humble beginnings to become a regular at the members-only Grand Havana cigar club in Beverly Hills, where he regularly socialized with celebrities. Penniless when he immigrated to the United States from Armenia in 2004, Sargsyan settled in Glendale, home to a large Armenian diaspora.

There, he scratched out a living collecting finder’s fees for bringing clients to attorneys — and also committing bank fraud. Court records show Sargsyan admitted he was part of an identity theft ring that racked up phony charges in the names of foreign exchange students who were no longer living in the United States.

Sargsyan went from small-time fraud artist to prolific criminal after meeting Levon Termendzhyan in 2010 at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel’s BLVD restaurant, court records show. Termendzhyan put forward a public facade of a wildly successful entrepreneur in the oil and gas industry, but within the Armenian community, Sargsyan testified, he had “the reputation of a mafia figure.”

Sargsyan became something of an advisor, confidant and younger brother to Termendzhyan, who is now serving a 40-year sentence for fraud and money laundering. Through Termendzhyan, Sargsyan met two corrupt law enforcement officers: John Saro Balian, a narcotics detective for the Glendale Police Department, and Felix Cisneros Jr., an agent of Homeland Security Investigations.

Sargsyan also cultivated relationships with public officials by donating lavishly to their campaigns. At his office in Beverly Hills, where he held himself out as a lawyer, Sargsyan posed for a photograph with Gov. Gavin Newsom before heading to a fundraiser for the governor at a members-only cigar lounge. Newsom and his political aides previously declined to discuss his relationship with Sargsyan, though a campaign official said all of his donations were rerouted to a charity.

Like much of Sargsyan’s life, the lawyer facade was a lie. After failing the California bar exam several times, Sargsyan paid an attorney $140,000 to take the test for him. Sargsyan didn’t admit to the scheme for years, failing to tell federal prosecutors about it until the eve of a trial in which he was set to testify.

Sargsyan said he’d held back about the bar exam scheme because he was “ashamed and embarrassed” to confess he wasn’t a lawyer.

Sargsyan testified against Babak Broumand, telling the jury he gave $10,000 a month to the decorated FBI agent in exchange for secret information about investigations into Sargsyan and his associates. Broumand, who worked for two decades on a national security squad in San Francisco, was convicted of accepting bribes and is serving six years in federal prison.

During a brief conversation outside the courtroom on Monday, Sargsyan lamented that a 2022 Times retelling of his wild life story had “destroyed his character” and used an expletive in reference to the reporter who wrote it.

“Report facts … that’s the beauty of journalism,” said Sargsyan, shortly before walking into court and accepting a plea deal based on an admission that he was a prolific liar.

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