A retired Santa Barbara County deputy probation officer has been arrested in connection with misappropriating more than $600,000 in funds and other charges from the union he led.

Manuel Edward Torres

Manuel Edward Torres

Manuel Edward Torres, 64, of Santa Maria reportedly will face 15 criminal charges when a complaint is filed Friday in Santa Barbara County Superior Court, according to District Attorney Joyce Dudley.

Charges include misappropriation of public funds, grand theft of monies from the Santa Barbara County Probation Peace Officers Association, forgery and false personation — all alleged to have occurred between Jan. 1, 2009, and June 30, 2019.

A change in leadership for the union sparked suspicions, leading probation officer Tanja Heitman to ask Dudley last summer to investigate the situation.

Deputy probation officer David Silva, recently elected as the organization’s president, suspected “a potential, large-scale embezzlement of funds” after reviewing financial records, district attorney investigator Chris Clement said.

Torres, a supervising probation officer, reportedly retired abruptly on July 12, 2019. 

Silva had challenged Torres, who led the group for more than 20 years, for the position of president, with the board asking him to instead serve as vice president to mentor the new leader.

“Torres was not at all happy with this change to the SBCPPOA board, and he essentially walked out of the meeting and cut off all communications with Silva and the board,” Clement wrote in the arrest warrant. 

Silva attempted to gain access to the group’s financial records and other documents.

“What he discovered was that there few, if any, association records,” Clement wrote. 

Torres ignored his replacement’s efforts to meet with him. They eventually discovered that the organization’s bank account had Torres and a former treasurer, Tara Presley, who had left that role 10 years earlier, as signees, raising concerns. They gained access to 18 months of bank records.

“A review of these records revealed that Torres has been writing checks, payable to himself, and signing both Presley’s name and his own,” Clement wrote. “While two signatures are required per SBCPPOA bylaws, the fact that Presley’s signature was being used/forged and the fact that most of the checks were made payable to Torres himself was disturbing and obviously fraudulent.”

An initial audit for June 1, 2013, to June 1, 2019 showed that the group paid $812,933 in expenditures with $412,822 paid to Torres. About half of the money paid to him was labeled for legal defense. 

The investigator learned the organization failed to make timely and consistent payments with two law firms it used.

Nearly $103,000 noted as reimbursements for the State Coalition of Probation Organizations also went to Torres. However, the state organization suspended the local group in 2011 for nonpayment of dues and terminated three years later.

The investigator said he examined earlier years and determined that other funds had been stolen.

In all, authorities alleged Torres embezzled $635,254 from the union.

Torres also will be charged with three counts of failure to file an income tax return for tax years 2009 to 2011, and eight counts of filing a false income tax return for 2012 to 2019.

Additionally, the criminal complaint will include a sentencing enhancement for aggravated white-collar crime, stating that the alleged felony conduct involving taking more than $500,000. 

Deputy District Attorney Brian Cota will lead the prosecution team.

Torres was arrested Wednesday in Santa Maria on a $500,000 warrant and remained in the custody of the Santa Barbara County Jail on Thursday evening.

While the schedule called for bail to be set at $320,000, authorities suggested a higher amount would be appropriate “due to the sophistication and duration of this crime, as well as the fact that Torres was a sworn peace officer during the entire complaint period.”

His arraignment hearing has been scheduled for Friday morning in Santa Barbara Superior Court’s Department 8.

Torres was a highly successful basketball coach at St. Joseph High School. He coached at the school for 27 combined seasons and won a total of seven CIF Southern Section championships (five in girls and two in boys) and two CIF State titles in girls basketball.

He served as an assistant coach at Orcutt Academy High School last basketball season, and remained listed on the website Thursday.

He also coached women’s basketball at Allan Hancock College, taking the Bulldogs to the State Elite 8 in 1992 and finishing as state runners-up in 1993.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at jscully@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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Janene Scully | Noozhawk North County Editor

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at jscully@noozhawk.com.