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Former U.S. immigration attorney sentenced for taking more than $400,000 in bribes to help illegal immigrants

March 21, 2011 |  2:50 pm

A former federal immigration attorney from Rancho Cucamonga was sentenced Monday to 17 years in prison for accepting more than $400,000 in bribes in exchange for helping illegal immigrants remain in the United States.

Constantine Peter Kallas, 40, was convicted last year of three dozen felony counts, including bribery, obstruction of justice, fraud, identity theft and tax evasion.

The former assistant chief council with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement operated a far-reaching scheme in which he falsely represented himself to immigrants as a judge, illegally claimed worker's compensation benefits and misappropriated the identities of others, prosecutors said.

In a sentencing memorandum filed in court, prosecutors described the case as “an epic display of a public official’s greed.”

“Mr. Kallas has received one of the longest sentences ever seen in a public corruption case,” U.S. Atty. Andre Birotte Jr. said in a statement.

He added that Kallas had obtained the money by “exploiting his knowledge of the immigration system.”

Kallas’ attorney, Dean Steward, said that before the sentencing, his client expressed remorse in a statement to Judge Terry Hatter Jr. Kallas, who has been in custody since his arrest in 2008, planned to file an appeal this week, Steward said.

“We are deeply disappointed in the sentence — for a white-collar case, it’s a really lengthy period of time,” Steward said Monday afternoon. “I have handled federal homicide cases where the defendant got less.”

The U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles also released a surveillance video showing Kallas accepting an envelope filled with $20,000 in cash from a government informant at the San Manuel Indian Bingo Casino in Highland.

Prosecutors used the video as evidence during Kallas’ three-week trial last April. In the video recorded in June 2008, Kallas takes a manila envelope from the informant and says, “I’m going to put it in my pocket, OK? I’m not going to go anywhere.”

Kallas was arrested about 10 minutes after the clip ends, said Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in L.A.

“Certainly it was not a particularly bright idea to have a meeting at a casino where there are numerous surveillance cameras,” Mrozek said. “It was the cameras installed at the facility that allowed us to get this high-quality tape that was shown to the jury.”

In addition to his government salary, Kallas and his wife, Maria, deposited $950,000 into their bank accounts since 2000, said Assistant U.S. Atty. Raymond Aghaian.

Of that amount, at least $425,854 came in the form of payments from illegal immigrants. Investigators also found $177,000 in cash and more than two dozen official immigration files hidden in a floor safe at the Kallas’ home, Aghaian said.

Prosecutors claimed that Kallas and his wife told illegal immigrants he was a high-ranking immigration official or judge who could obtain benefits for them in exchange for the bribes. Kallas even went so far as to appear in immigration court without authorization to defend his housekeeper’s daughter in a 2006 deportation hearing, they said.

Kallas told the judge that the defendant was assisting other ICE investigations and successfully requested that her case be dismissed, Aghaian said.

The housekeeper had paid about $7,500 to Kallas and was working for him for free, Aghaian said.

“This is a corrupt public official who engaged in a conspiracy to commits crimes with the very people he was supposed to prosecute,” Aghaian said. “He essentially put the entire integrity of our judicial system at risk by committing these acts.”

In addition to his prison sentence, Kallas was ordered to pay $296,865 in restitution for worker's compensation benefits he had received fraudulently.

Kallas had joined ICE’s predecessor agency in 1998. He has been on unpaid leave since January 2007.

Maria Kallas, 41, pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges in November 2009. She is set to be sentenced in May.


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-- Sam Allen 

Video credit: U.S. Justice Department