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A high-ranking immigration official who took nearly $500,000 in bribes from immigrants to whom he promised such things as green cards and dismissals of charges has been sentenced to more than 17 years in jail.
The sentence of Constantine Peter Kallas, announced by the U.S. Attorney’s Office on Monday, is one of the longest ever handed down in a public corruption case, officials said.
“Mr. Kallas took in hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes – money he obtained by exploiting his knowledge of the immigration system,” said U.S. Attorney André Birotte Jr. “The lengthy sentence reflects the seriousness of the crimes, which were a wholesale violation of the public trust.”
Kallas, 40, was an assistant chief counsel for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency responsible for, among other things, detentions and deportations.
In one the most damning moments for Kallas, investigators captured him on a casino video surveillance camera taking a $20,000 bribe from an immigrant in 2008. He and his wife, Maria, 41, were arrested immediately after that incident.
Most of the people from whom he got bribes, prosecutors say, were immigrants from Latin America. Most lived in California, though a few resided in Florida, prosecutors say.
Those immigrants, prosecutors say, now each could face a maximum sentence of 15 years for each bribe, in addition to possible deportation for immigration violations.
Last year, Kallas was declared guilty of 36 felony counts covering conspiracy, bribery, obstruction of justice, fraud and aggravated identity theft, among other things.
Kallas, who joined the immigration agency in 1998, was put on unpaid leave in 2007. He has been in jail since his 2008 arrest.
U.S. District Judge Terry J. Hatter, Jr. also ordered Kallas to pay nearly $297,000 in restitution after fraudulently receiving worker’s compensation benefits.
Sentencing for Kallas’s wife, Maria, is set for May 2. She pleaded guilty to conspiracy and bribery, among other things.
Efforts to obtain a comment from Kallas’ attorney, Dean Steward, were unsuccessful.
“As a prosecutor, he was engaged in a criminal conspiracy with the very people he was charge with prosecuting,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Raymond O. Aghaian. “And in doing so, he took hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to dismiss cases or file petitions [for green cards].”
The statement by the prosecutors said that the casino bribe just before his arrest was “the last in a series of incidents in which Kallas and his wife, Maria, told illegal aliens that Kallas was an immigration official – either an immigration judge or some other type of high-level immigration official – and that Kallas could obtain immigration benefits for the aliens in exchange for bribes.”
Aghaian said that Maria Kallas facilitated her husband’s scheme through her native Spanish skills and the rapport it helped her establish with immigrants who were desperate for a way to stay in the United States.
The prosecutors’ statement about Kallas’s sentence said he took bribes from immigrants who were offered “jobs” at companies that the couple fraudulently set up, then the ICE official filed bogus Department of Labor applications for the immigrants.
On December 16, 2006, Kallas appeared in Immigration Court and, without any authorization, used his position as an immigration prosecutor to ask a judge to dismiss removal proceedings against an immigrant, the statement said.
Further, Kallas misused the identities of several real persons by, among other things, putting their names on fraudulent documents or on bank accounts used to hide money from the Internal Revenue Service.
In some cases, Kallas attempted to solve immigrants’ problems by simply making their files disappear. When investigators searched the Kallas residence in June 2008, they discovered a hidden floor safe that contained more than $177,000 in cash and two dozen official immigration files.
According to court documents, the bank records for the Kallases showed that, beyond his salary, approximately $950,000 had been deposited into the couple’s bank accounts since 2000.
Prosecutors said they began to look into Kallas’s actions after receiving tips. Aghaian noted that Kallas’s behavior is an aberration.
“It doesn’t represent the 99.9 percent of the people who work for Homeland Security or immigration,” he said.
As for the possible prosecution of the immigrants who paid the bribes, Aghaian said: “Unlike other individuals who waited their turn, these individuals did not stand in line and chose to pay bribes to get ahead. They chose to cheat.”