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A former attorney with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was sentenced on March 21 to 17 years and eight months in federal prison for taking bribes from immigrants. U.S. District Judge Terry Hatter in Los Angeles also ordered Constantine Peter Kallas, who was assistant chief counsel for the agency in Los Angeles, to pay $296,865 in restitution. “Mr. Kallas has received one of the longest sentences ever seen in a public corruption case,” said U.S. Attorney André Birotte in Los Angeles. “Mr. Kallas took hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes – money he obtained by exploiting his knowledge of the immigration system. The lengthy sentence reflects the seriousness of the crimes, which were wholesale violation of the public trust.” Kallas’s lawyer, H. Dean Steward, a criminal defense attorney and solo practitioner in San Clemente, Calif., said he planned to appeal his client’s conviction and the sentence. “Obviously, we’re deeply disappointed,” he said. “We think the problem is with the U.S. attorney’s office that lost all perspective of fairness in the case literally years ago. And whenever you’ve got a 30-year recommendation from them in a white-collar, first-time, nonviolent offender, they should be embarrassed.” He said that Kallas will serve his sentence in federal prison camp in Illinois. Kallas, 40, was convicted last year of 36 charges including conspiracy, bribery, obstruction of justice, aggravated identity theft, tax evasion and making false statements to the U.S. Department of Labor and to obtain federal employee compensation. His sentence, while hefty, fell below the recommendation of federal prosecutors in Los Angeles, who sought 29 years and five months, according to court documents in the case. It also was below the U.S. Probation Office’s recommendation of 26 years and four months. “This case presents an epic display of a public official’s greed,” wrote Assistant U.S. Attorney Raymond Aghaian, in court documents. “As a corrupt prosecutor, defendant calculatingly terrorized the idea of justice and the concept of public service.” According to federal prosecutors, Kallas and his wife, Maria Kallas, told illegal aliens that he was an immigration judge or other high-level official who could get benefits for them in exchange for bribes of as much as $20,000. In one instance, Kallas took $7,000 in bribes from his housekeeper in exchange for dismissing removal proceedings against her daughter. Kallas and his wife also took bribes from four other illegal aliens for whom he filed permanent employment certification applications with the Department of Labor claiming that they had legitimate jobs with what in reality were shell companies, according to prosecutors. They also said that Kallas stole confidential immigration files, used law enforcement databases, filed false pleadings in court and lied to an immigration judge. Between 2003 and 2008, Kallas took approximately $425,854 in bribes, according to prosecutors. He also attempted to get nearly $300,000 by falsely claiming workers compensation benefits and tax credits. Prosecutors argued that Kallas deserved a stiff sentence because of his senior position as an ICE attorney and his multiple convictions. They sought an additional $83,400 in restitution to the Internal Revenue Service and a $25,000 fine. Steward, in court documents, called the government’s sentencing request “wildly out of line and flatly unfair and unreasonable,” although he provided no alternative recommendation. He said his client suffered from depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Also, Kallas was merely a “line” immigration lawyer – one of 90 in his district, he wrote. He noted that the probation office recommended 33 months for Maria Kallas. Maria Kallas, 41, pleaded guilty to conspiracy, bribery and conspiracy to commit money laundering on Nov. 16, 2009. She is scheduled to be sentenced on May 2. Kallas, 40, joined ICE’s predecessor agency in June 1998. A graduate of the University of Illinois College of Law, Kallas has been on unpaid leave since January 2007. He has been in jail since August 2008, two months after being arrested by FBI special agents at the San Manuel Indian Bingo & Casino in Highland, Calif., where he and his wife were caught accepting an alleged bribe from an immigrant. After searching the Kallas residence in Alta Loma, Calif., investigators found a floor safe containing more than $177,000 in cash and 24 official immigration files, according to federal prosecutors. Hatter closed the sentencing hearing from the public after Steward cited the potential harm to his client of such news ending up in both jail and federal prison, where numerous illegal immigrants are housed. “The result will be either isolation (a dramatically increased form of punishment, in and of itself), or the very real threat of physical harm,” Steward said.   Amanda Bronstad can be contacted at [email protected].

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