LOS ANGELES (AP) - A former Immigration and Customs Enforcement attorney was sentenced Monday to more than 17 years in prison for pocketing hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to create fake documents for immigrants in a scheme prosecutors described as an epic display of a public official's greed.
Constantine Peter Kallas, a one-time assistant chief counsel for ICE, was also ordered by U.S. District Judge Terry J. Hatter Jr. to pay $296,000 in restitution after being convicted last year of 36 counts, including conspiracy, bribery and fraud.
Prosecutors said Kallas and his wife Maria Kallas carried out the elaborate scheme between 2003 and 2008 by setting up two companies to file false paperwork claiming the immigrants had job offers to work in this country.
Video footage provided by prosecutors showed a smiling Constantine Kallas taking $20,000 in cash from a man at a California casino and shoving it in his pocket amid the din of slot machines.
"He was a prosecutor and he engaged in a conspiracy with the people he was charged to prosecute," Assistant U.S. Attorney Raymond Aghaian said outside court.
On a search of Kallas' home, authorities found 24 immigration files hidden in a floor safe and a detailed payment ledger with the names of 60 different people. They also found $177,500 in cash, authorities said.
In one instance, Kallas took a $7,000 bribe from his housekeeper and convinced an immigration judge to halt the deportation of her daughter by claiming she had agreed to be a witness on another case, court papers show.
The Alta Loma couple banked about $950,000 before their arrests in 2008, with at least $425,000 of that amount coming from bribes, authorities said.
Prosecutors said it was a relatively long sentence for a federal case dealing with the corruption of federal or local officials.
Attorney Dean Steward, who represents Constantine Kallas, said he thought the sentence of 17 years and eight months was too severe.
"For a white-collar case it's an exceptionally harsh sentence," Steward said. "I've worked homicide cases where the defendant didn't get 17 years."
Maria Kallas pleaded guilty in 2009 to conspiracy, bribery and conspiracy to commit money laundering. She is scheduled to be sentenced May 2.
The restitution will help cover workers compensation' payments that Kallas received during leave from ICE due to a purported injury while he was simultaneously accepting bribes, Aghaian said.
Hatter closed the sentencing hearing at Kallas' request.
Steward said his client was threatened by fellow inmates when his case previously appeared in the news and he wound up in solitary confinement.