Department of Justice Retreats From Tying LA Businessman to Organized-Crime Operation
UPDATE: Shortly after being rebuked by U.S. Magistrate Judge Arthur Nakazato for wrongly questioning the character of Los Angeles businessman Sam Solakyan, Assistant United States Attorney Todd T. Tristan was removed from the case by his superiors. During a court hearing on April 22, 2013, Nakazato noted that, "As a direct result of Mr. Tristan's reckless, disparaging insinuations and innuendos, Mr. Solakyan...now has personal concerns about damages to his reputation."
We recently reported that a federal prosecutor in Orange County has been blocking an alleged organized-crime figure from receiving nearly $2 million in bail from a Los Angeles businessman with close ties to ex-LA District Attorney Steve Cooley.
Assistant United States Attorney Todd T. Tristan repeatedly claimed that Sam Solakyan, the wealthy owner of Global Holdings Inc., should not be allowed to post a portion of a $3.55 million bail for accused Armenian gangster Suren Gambaryan because he is also "a target" in the ongoing Department of Justice/IRS Criminal Division probe.
According to court records filed by Tristan, Gambaryan--a longtime family friend of Solakyan's--is a member of the criminal street gang Armenian Power and a key participating swindler in a massive identity-theft ring that filed nearly 3,000 fake IRS 1040 income-tax returns, seeking refunds of nearly $20 million, during a two-year period beginning in 2010.
But Tristan's seemingly confident, damning assertions about Solakyan, an enthusiastic donor to police agencies in California, prompted suspicion--even anger--from U.S. Magistrate Judge Arthur Nakazato inside Orange County's Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse.
Last week, Nakazato, the man responsible for determining whether Gambaryan can satisfy his pretrial bail requirements, tired of Tristan's inability to back up his assertions and tersely challenged the federal prosecutor.
"You've painted Mr. Solakyan as part of the [criminal] operation, as a straw man or a money launderer," the judge told Tristan during a hearing. "If so, charge him accordingly. But if he turns out to be a solid citizen, then there will be hell to pay."
Hell just issued a bill to Tristan.
This week, the prosecutor--who has been called disorganized, rude and sloppy by Nakazato--retreated from his assertions about Solakyan.
"The government wishes to clarify its position concerning Solakyan to stress that the government does not believe that Solakyan could, at this time, be properly classified as a subject or target of the instant investigation or any other federal criminal investigation known to the government at this time," wrote Tristan.
He added, "Furthermore, the federal government does not currently have evidence in its possession that would support the position Solakyan can or should be charged with any criminal offense at this time."
Tristan then ended more than a month of fighting by withdrawing his objection to the businessman helping Gambaryan with bail, though the prosecutor added one final stab to the man's reputation by calling him "not an ideal" person.
He did not issue Solakyan, who has a clean criminal record, an apology or offer any explanation for why he repeatedly called the man an organized crime target when that wasn't true.
Yet Tristan's concession supports angry contentions by Kenneth Reed, Gambaryan's veteran Santa Ana-based defense lawyer, that the prosecutor used his powerful government perch to smear Solakyan's reputation in a brazen attempt to keep his client locked up before a trial that could be more than a year away.
(The law gives prosecutors the power to say anything they want in court, with complete immunity from slander laws.)
Even before this startling DOJ retreat, Nakazato suggested he is considering reporting Tristan for ethical violations.
There's no indication on the record if the judge has made a decision.
This news has to come as a relief to Cooley, who became a lawyer for Solakyan's sole-shareholder corporation after his law enforcement retirement in 2012.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Orange County, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.