Tuesday, March 22, 2011
Judge Hatter Sentences Former ICE Lawyer to Nearly 18 Years in Prison
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A former senior government attorney yesterday drew a sentence of nearly 18 years in prison for taking bribes from persons seeking assistance with immigration problems.
Senior U.S. District Judge Terry J. Hatter imposed the 17 year, eight month term on Constantine Peter Kallas, 40, after a closed-door hearing in downtown Los Angeles.
Kallas, formerly assistant chief counsel for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, was also ordered to pay $296,000 in restitution. Prosecutors aid he illegally obtained money through workers compensation fraud and tax evasion, claiming total disability and zero income while he was collecting bribes.
Hatter yesterday expressed surprise at the number of spectators in the courtroom after taking the bench shortly after 10 a.m. After Kallas’ attorney, H. Dean Steward, said it may have been in response to a press release sent out Friday by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the judge asked Steward whether he was reiterating a previous request that the sentencing hearing be closed to the press and public.
“I’m going to have to talk to the U.S. attorney,” Hatter commented.
Steward explained that he wanted the courtroom closed because past media coverage had resulted in his client being placed in isolation. Kallas was jailed in August 2008, about two months after he was arrested by special agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation at the San Manuel Indian Bingo and Casino in Highland.
Kallas was arrested after he took a $20,000 bribe from an immigrant during an incident that was captured on casino surveillance cameras and shown to the jury at his trial last year, and after a search of his residence resulted in the seizure of more than $177,000 in cash and two dozen official immigration files from a floor safe. Prosecutors said that Kallas “made the files disappear” in exchange for bribes.
He was found guilty of conspiracy, six counts of bribery, two counts of obstruction of justice, seven counts of fraud and misuse of entry documents, three counts of aggravated identity theft, nine counts of making false statements to the Department of Labor, four counts of making false statements to obtain federal employee compensation, and four counts of tax evasion after a three-week jury trial last year.
Longer Sentence Recommended
Kallas had faced a statutory maximum term of 256 years. Prosecutors had recommended a sentence of about 30 years, but the judge indicated at an earlier hearing that he was considering a lesser sentence. Hatter had continued sentencing for several months so that the defendant could undergo a psychiatric evaluation at the Bureau of Prisons medical facility in Springfield, Mo.
According to the prosecution’s evidence, Kallas and his wife Maria told immigrants, including their own housekeeper, that he could secure favorable treatment for them or their relatives in exchange for cash.
The lead prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Raymond Aghaian, said the long sentence was justified. “He was a prosecutor and he engaged in a conspiracy with the people he was charged to prosecute,” Aghaian said.
In their sentencing memorandum, prosecutors said Kallas deserved the recommended punishment, which they acknowledged would be the longest ever imposed in a public corruption case.
“This case presents an epic display of a public official’s greed,” they wrote.
“As a corrupt prosecutor, [Kallas] calculatingly terrorized the idea of justice and the concept of public service,” they continued. “[Kallas] carried out his crime scheme through elaborate forms of manipulation, lies, and obstructive conduct.”
Steward said his client suffers from clinical depression, a gambling addiction, and chronic back pain which led to his taking leave from the ICE position. The casino video introduced into evidence by the prosecution shows Maria Kallas coming back to her husband for money to play the slot machines, he noted.
The judge obviously took that into consideration, Steward said, because both prosecutors and the probation office, which recommended a 24-year term, sought considerably more time that Hatter imposed. But the sentence was still too harsh, the attorney said, adding that he intends to appeal the conviction and sentence on multiple grounds.
During a five-year period that ended with his arrest, the Kallases accepted payments from aliens that totaled at least $425,854, prosecutors said. Bank records introduced into evidence showed that over a period of several years, their deposits exceeded his salary by $950,000.
The evidence showed that Kallas took bribes from some illegal aliens who were offered “jobs” at companies Kallas and his wife had set up. As part of the scheme, Kallas filed fraudulent labor condition applications with the Department of Labor that falsely claimed the companies had offered employment to the aliens.
On Dec. 16, 2006, Kallas appeared before an immigration judge and, without any authorization, used his position as an immigration prosecutor to ask a judge to dismiss removal proceedings against an immigrant.
Kallas misused the identities of several real persons by, among things, putting their names on fraudulent documents or on nominee bank accounts used to hide money from the Internal Revenue Service, prosecutors said.
Maria Kallas, 41, pleaded guilty to conspiracy, bribery and conspiracy to commit money laundering in November 2009. Senior District Judge Robert J. Timlin is scheduled to sentence her on May 2.
Kallas, who is not a member of the State Bar of California, attended Northwestern University and the University of Illinois School of Law, was admitted to practice in Illinois, and worked there and in Indiana before joining ICE’s predecessor agency, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, Aghaian said.
Copyright 2011, Metropolitan News Company