The fallout from the unlikely partnership between a polygamist Mormon cult member and the reputed boss of the Los Angeles Armenian Mafia in a $511 million biofuel subsidies scam—a story reported extensively reported by LA Mag—is having international implications after the U.S. State Department issued a rare and unusual designation against the former Minister of National Security in Belize for pocketing bribes paid with stolen taxpayer cash.
The designation for John Saldivar cites “significant corruption” stemming in part from his relationship with polygamist Jacob Kingston, the mastermind of a plan that bilked the U.S. Treasury out of $511 million in green energy tax credits—monies that he then attempted to launder, prosecutors say, overseas in Turkey and Belize, and Lev Dermen, who prosecutors say is an Armenian crime family boss, a charge his attorney Mark Geragos staunchly denies as “racist hyperbole.”
Saldivar, according to court testimony, facilitated the purchase of a parcel of land and even obtained Belizean citizenship for the polygamist and the alleged mobster in exchange for monthly payments and a $50,000 cash donation to his political coffers.
“Corrupt acts such as these undermine the integrity of Belize’s democratic institutions and fuel perceptions of corruption and impunity, diminishing confidence in governance,” the State Department said in a press release, adding that the Belizean politician, “accepted bribes in exchange for improperly facilitating the acquisition of Belizean immigration documents” and that he “interfered in public processes for personal gain.”
The State Department designation as a corrupted public official bars Saldivar, his wife, and their children from traveling to the U.S. A State Department spokesman declined to elaborate on other sanctions that could be imposed against the powerful politician, one that recently launched a campaign for Prime Minister of Belize.
Saldivar’s name was repeatedly referenced in the 2020 federal money laundering trial of Dermen in Utah. Kingston, who agreed to plead guilty to a plethora of charges connected to his long-running scheme to move around fake biofuel and claim the lucrative tax credits for renewable energy creation from the US, took the stand to testify against Dermen and detailed the relationship his partner had with the Belizean politician. The duo traveled to Belize at least five times.
Saldivar treated them like royalty upon arrival, which included a tour of the country’s shoreline aboard a Boston Whaler that was gifted to Belize by the US Coast Guard—a boat that the State Department claims Saldivar used as a private vessel rather than to patrol the country’s shores as part of his homeland security duties.
During one of Kingston’s first trips in early 2014 – at the height of a biofuel scheme the co-conspirators called “the Plan”— Saldivar asked the duo for financial support for his political campaigns to help him stay in power. In return, prosecutors say, he secured a parcel of land for Kingston on which to build a casino, one of a plethora of ways that the polygamist member of what the Southern Poverty Law Center calls a racist “blood cult,” also known as “the Order,” laundered the subsidies he stole from the United States Treasury. Other purchases funded a super-yacht, a luxury car spree, beach houses, a five-star hotel and a Turkish airliner.
During the money-laundering luxury jaunts, Saldivar befriended Kingston and Dermen, and partied with the mobster in the Caribbean while the teetotaler Mormon watched.
“He told us that he had three or four individuals as part of his party, and their intent to be reelected and the conversation led to cash or to money that was needed for reelection campaign,” Kingston testified.
Weeks later, Kingston claimed Saldivar texted him and said he needed a cash infusion. Kingston offered to wire it, and the Minister of National Security texted back that having a paper trail “wasn’t a good idea.”
Instead, Kingston testified, Saldivar flew to Miami in the spring of 2014 and picked up a bag stuffed with $50,000 in cash from an employee of Washakie Renewable Energy, Kingston’s company at the center of the biofuel scam. And the money continued to flow to Saldivar, Kingston said on the stand.
“The arrangement was that they would receive money every month for their campaign,” Kingston said, to the tune of $25,000 a month.
Within days of Kingston’s testimony in Utah, Saldivar resigned from office and was getting ready to reignite his political career, a campaign that was upended in recent days when the State Department announced that he and his family were barred from entering the U.S. and could face additional sanctions—including criminal charges and extradition. That prompted Saldivar to hold a contentious press conference in Belize denying he was corrupt, calling the U.S. government’s actions “egregious” and “unjust.”
“I have no difficulty facing a trial here in Belize or abroad,” he told reporters defiantly. “I have guarded my reputation. Incidences like the one with Lev Dermen where I was nat involved in any corruption have cast aspersions on my reputation.”
Dermen and Kingston remain in state custody in Utah awaiting sentencing in connection to the hundreds of millions of dollars stolen from U.S. citizens. The scandal has sent two federal agents to prison in connection with acting as “an umbrella of protection” to keep Kingston and Dermen out of trouble. Disgraced FBI agent Babak Broumand was convicted on corruption and bribery charges in a federal court in Los Angeles last month in connection with moonlighting for the Armenian Mafia in exchange for cash, the services of a Vegas hooker, and an Italian motorcycle.
Last week, former Homeland Security Investigations Agent Felix Cisneros was sentenced to more than ten years in prison for his role in the scheme, including helping a felon working for Washakie Renewable Energy get into the U.S. from Mexico illegally. Another dirty cop connected to the sprawling criminal enterprise, Glendale Police Detective John Saro Balian, was convicted of lying about his ties to Armenian and Mexican underworld bosses and shotcallers.
Stay on top of the latest in L.A. food and culture. Sign up for our newsletters today.