Federal courthouse
Federal courthouse in downtown San Diego. Photo by Chris Stone

A former U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer and ex-president of the union representing ICE employees in San Diego County was sentenced Wednesday to four months in prison for attempting to hide his embezzlement of thousands of dollars in union dues.

Felix Luciano, 61, pleaded guilty earlier this year to a federal count of filing a false financial report, which prosecutors say was intended to conceal that he’d taken $36,000 from the union.

Luciano served from 2011 to 2018 as president of American Federation of Government Employees Local 2805, which represents Department of Homeland Security and ICE employees in San Diego and Imperial counties.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office says Luciano took union dues to pay for his personal expenses, including shopping, travel reimbursements, groceries, dining and dry cleaning.

According to a grand jury indictment returned against Luciano, he used Local 2805’s debit and credit cards to pay for these expenses and wrote checks to himself from the union’s checking account.

Defense attorney Eugene Iredale, who noted his client had devoted a “lifetime of service” to ICE and the U.S. Marine Corps, asked for a sentence of probation and said Luciano would agree to serve 150 hours of community service.

Iredale noted that by the time of sentencing, Luciano had already paid the full restitution of $36,000 and agreed to pay a $10,000 fine.

In explaining Luciano’s offense, which Iredale said was “not an attempt to avoid acceptance of responsibility or acknowledgment of wrongdoing,” he stated Luciano regularly worked around 60 hours or more per week as union president, yet the government only paid him up to 40 hours weekly.

Iredale assured U.S. District Judge Jinsook Ohta that Luciano was “deeply ashamed” of his conduct.

Luciano told the judge he was “deeply sorry for my actions” and apologized to the “503 members that I represented.” He said, “I want to put this matter behind me and continue serving the community and be a good to society.”

Prosecutors say Luciano hid the embezzlement by falsifying the union’s annual financial reports. One such report in 2018 underreported how much money he received from the union, as well as the union’s cash balance, which prosecutors allege was a bid to conceal stolen funds.

Luciano retired as the local’s president in December 2018 in the course of an audit of Local 2805 by the Department of Labor’s Office of Labor-Management Standards, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Assistant U. S. Attorney Christopher Alexander said Luciano learned of that audit about a month prior to announcing his retirement.

The prosecutor argued for custody because the embezzlement occurred over multiple years and was “not an isolated incident.”

Ohta said Luciano “embezzled those union funds at the tail end of what was otherwise an exemplary life serving other people and doing a lot of good,” but said a custodial sentence was warranted due to the “real abuse of trust to the union members.”