A former star prosecutor who admitted providing sensitive information to Orange County's biggest methamphetamine dealer was released from custody Monday after almost three years of imprisonment.
Bryan Ray Kazarian, 37, left federal court in Santa Ana on Monday evening to cheers and hugs from more than 60 friends and relatives. Kazarian, who wept as he hugged his wife, Tanya, had been held in an undisclosed prison because authorities feared he might become a target of the drug dealer or others. On at least one occasion, he was attacked by a gang member, his lawyer said.
Kazarian is the first Orange County prosecutor convicted of a crime in 30 years. Although the State Bar of California has classified Kazarian as "not entitled to practice law," the former prosecutor has appealed that decision.
Kazarian's colleagues described him as a successful gang prosecutor. He came under suspicion when authorities discovered his friendship with John David Ward, a high-rolling gambler and head of a large methamphetamine ring based in California and Hawaii. U.S. attorneys described him as the county's biggest methamphetamine dealer.
Kazarian allegedly accepted free trips to Las Vegas in exchange for providing Ward with information about investigations involving the drug ring. After becoming suspicious of Kazarian, the district attorney's office created fictitious information about a nonexistent informant in the Ward case to see if Kazarian would leak it. He did.
In 1999, Kazarian was charged after authorities recorded incriminating cell phone conversations between him and Ward.
Kazarian pleaded guilty to a single federal drug-trafficking conspiracy charge and agreed to provide key testimony at Ward's trial. After a long trial at which Kazarian testified for an entire day, Ward was convicted on multiple counts of narcotics violations and money laundering. He was sentenced in February to life in prison without possibility of parole.
Authorities had wanted to wait until after Ward's trial to sentence Kazarian, who was held in custody because of fears that he was a flight risk.
On Monday, Kazarian appeared in shackles before U.S. District Judge Gary L. Taylor for sentencing. Assistant U.S. Atty. James Spertus said Kazarian had already served the slightly more than three-year sentence prosecutors had recommended.
The former prosecutor said he regretted his misconduct. "I'm deeply remorseful for abusing my position of trust," Kazarian said. "I let John Ward manipulate me.... I never had any intent to harm anyone in my office or anyone in law enforcement. For those who think I put them in danger, I apologize to them."
Kazarian says he was duped by Ward and didn't initially realize he was a drug dealer.