Was Belize’s next potential premier on the take? Washakie fraud defendant paid stacks of cash to him, Jacob Kingston testifies

(Image via Belize Ministry of National Security) Belize Minister of National Security John B. Saldivar inspects security facilities Dec. 14, 2019.

Lev Aslan Dermen, who is on trial in a Utah-based biofuels fraud, paid bundles of cash to the Belize security minister, a former co-defendant testified Monday.

In Jacob Kingston’s third day on the witness stand, he told a federal jury that he and Dermen, also known as Levon Termendzhyan, traveled to Belize in 2013 with plans to build a casino there. The casino never came to fruition.

Kingston testified he saw Dermen meet with John Saldivar, the Central American country’s security minister.

“Did you ever witness [Dermen] and John Saldivar do business together?” federal prosecutor Richard Rolwing asked.

“I was there when Levon gave him money,” Kingston replied.

Kingston said he saw Dermen pay Saldivar stacks of cash in $10,000 increments. Kingston did not know specifically why the money was paid but assumed it was part of the various government protections Dermen purchased in the United States and abroad.

(Photo courtesy Weber County jail) Jacob Kingston

In 2018, the Belize government issued an audit of its Immigration and Nationality Department. Termendzhyan was listed in it as having received, in 2013, a nationality certificate — a prerequisite for a Belize passport — with little or no investigation as to whether he was a citizen of that nation. The audit said he did not receive a passport.

On Sunday, Belize’s majority political party elected Saldivar the party’s leader, putting him in line to become prime minister, according to news outlets in Belize. Saldivar has previously denied any bribery.

Kingston said Saldivar and personnel from the the Belize Coast Guard Service took Kingston and Dermen on a boat ride. Prosecutors showed a photo of Dermen on a boat with two men in orange life vests. One of the sailors held a rifle. Federal Judge Jill Parrish later told the jury to disregard the photo because prosecutors improperly submitted it as evidence.

Kingston was the CEO of Washakie Renewable Energy and has pleaded guilty to charges related to falsifying applications for biofuel tax credits. Prosecutors say he stole $470 million and diverted much of it to Dermen.

(Davis County Sheriff's Office, via AP) Lev Aslan Dermen.

Dermen is charged with two counts of conspiracy and eight counts of money laundering. Although he’s not charged with bribery, prosecutors have been trying to bolster the conspiracy counts by showing Dermen corrupted government officials.

As for Kingston, he is a member of the polygamous Davis County Cooperative Society. He testified Monday morning about a house Dermen bought for him in Sandy and money that was diverted to family members.

When Kington and his legal wife had marital problems in 2013, he testified, Dermen suggested buying her a big house in the Salt Lake City area. Dermen said he would purchase the house.

Dermen came to Salt Lake City on his private jet on Pioneer Day 2013. He also had a chrome Lamborghini shipped to Utah on a truck, Kingston testified.

They drove past a mansion in Sandy. “Levon said, ‘This is the house you need to buy because this is our style,’” Kingston testified.

Within days, Dermen and Kingston had purchased the house for $3.175 million.

(Courtesy U.S. District Court for the District of Utah) Lev Dermen, left, stands with Jacob Kingston at a banquet hall in Southern California in 2014. Federal prosecutors say this photo is evidence of how Kingston purchased the 2010 Bugatti Veyron, left, for $1.72 million to give Dermen, and Dermen purchased the Ferrari, right to give to Kingston to launder money from a biofuel fraud. Kingston has pleaded guilty to crimes. Dermen has pleaded not guilty. Behind the men is a sculpture of a lion's head, the animal Dermen associates himself with.

Still on Pioneer Day, Dermen and Kingston drove in the Lamborghini to a Kingston family picnic in Bountiful. The car was far flashier than what his family drives, Kingston testified, and people at the picnic were taking photos of it.

After the picnic, Dermen tossed Kingston the car keys.

“‘Here, it’s yours,’” Kingston quoted Dermen as saying. “And I drove away in it.”

Prosecutors contend Kingston and Dermen laundered proceeds of the fraud in part by buying each other homes and cars. Kingston bought Dermen a house in Huntington Beach, Calif., for about $3 million and a 2010 Bugatti Veyron, a French sports car, for about $1.7 million.

Kingston also testified about diverting fraud proceeds to his family and the polygamous sect. He hired a variety of Davis County Cooperative-connected construction companies to build Washakie’s plant in Box Elder County.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Jacob Kingston says Lev Aslan Dermen bought him this home near 2700 E. Creek Road in Sandy for $3.175 million. Kingston said Dermen paid for the house with proceeds from a biofuel fraud.

He also paid about $10 million to a company called A-FAB Engineering, though it did no work for Washakie. A-FAB was started by Kingston’s father, John Daniel Kingston. The $10 million went to pay debts the business owed to the cooperative, Jacob Kingston testified.

Members of the cooperative believe in the fundamentalist Mormon practice of a “united order” in which they pool their incomes and revenues. Any withdrawals for business or personal expenses are to be repaid.