A former leader of Santa Barbara County’s probation union has been sentenced to 11 years in prison for embezzling public funds.

Manuel Edward Torres, 67, of Orcutt is a retired deputy probation officer and former leader of the Santa Barbara County Probation Peace Officer’s Association.

He was accused of stealing $635,254 from the organization and diverting it into his personal bank account over several years.

Torres pleaded guilty in April to a felony charge of theft of public funds for the period of 2009 to 2019.

He also admitted an enhancement of stealing more than $500,000, that the theft occurred while occupying a position of leadership, and that he took advantage of a position of trust.

He previously pleaded no contest to filing false tax returns.

Torres was taken into custody on Thursday after the sentencing hearing in Judge Pauline Maxwell’s courtroom of Superior Court, according to the District Attorney’s Office.

The court ordered Torres to pay $1,072,654 in restitution to the Probation Peace Officer’s Association, and $328,345 to the California Franchise Tax Board.

Torres worked for the Probation Department from 1986 to 2019, when he retired.

He was president of the association for more than 20 years, and an investigation of financial records after his retirement determined Torres was embezzling from an organization bank account that was funded by union dues.

Torres will forfeit his retirement benefits from Santa Barbara County for 2009-2019 due to the conviction, according to the District Attorney’s Office.

The court also appointed a receiver to take possession of Torres’ home and sell it “to help satisfy the restitution order,” the District Attorney’s Office said in a statement.

Torres had sought to delay the sentencing hearing, citing his health issues, but prosecutor Brian Cota filed a reply opposing the delay. 

The prosecuting attorney also requested the court appoint a receiver amid plans to sell the Torres family home and use the proceeds to pay back the union and unpaid taxes. 

Cota contended the entire equity in the residence should be apportioned as restitution to the victims.

Noting that Torres’ wife was not involved in the embezzlement, Cota argued the stolen funds were deposited into an account used for household expenses including mortgage payments “so the actual ‘fruit of the fraud’ is long gone.”

There is a divorce case currently going through Family Court.

Sylvia Torres and her attorney, Stephen Anderson, recognized that the house sale is “inevitable,” but requested in a motion that the court “recognizes Ms. Torres’ rights to half of the equity and permits the family court to make that order, along with those that give her conclusion of all remaining issues.”

Cota argued that “it would be an absurd result to allow property that can be levied upon to pay constitutionally required victim restitution, to be held hostage in family court.”  

Torres was a basketball coach at St. Joseph High School, Orcutt Academy High School, and Allan Hancock College.

Noozhawk North County Editor Janene Scully contributed reporting to this story.