Ed Torres at a Probation Department event in 2019.

Manuel “Ed” Torres, a former supervisor with the Santa Barbara County Probation Department, was arrested Wednesday for allegedly embezzling more than $600,000 from the probation officers union he led for 20 years. Torres, 63, is currently booked in County Jail on 15 felony charges, including grand theft, misappropriation of public funds, forgery, and tax violations. His bail is set at $500,000, and he is scheduled to be arraigned Friday.

Investigators began looking into Torres’s personal finances in July 2019, following a phone call by Chief Probation Officer Tanja Heitman to District Attorney Joyce Dudley. Heitman had spoken with a deputy probation officer named David Silva, who’d recently been elected to replace Torres as president of the probation union. Apparently unhappy with the results, Torres had stormed out of the meeting and cut all ties with the board, and Silva said an immediate review of the union’s records revealed what appeared to be a large-scale embezzlement scheme by Torres over many years.

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Investigators ultimately determined, according to Torres’s arrest warrant affidavit, that between September 2009 and June 2019, he stole $635,254.31. “During this time, he was the President of the association and had signing rights to their bank accounts at Bank of America,” the affidavit states, noting union dues are collected from members via deductions from their paychecks. “Torres simply wrote checks, payable to himself, and forged the name of a former treasurer of the board.… All of the checks that Torres wrote and forged were deposited into his personal bank account.” In addition, investigators found, Torres presented the union’s board of directors with false financial records that hid his ongoing theft. 

Interviews with former boardmembers revealed Torres ran the union with an iron fist. They called it “Ed’s show,” explaining to investigators that Torres had been president for so long that “no one questioned him, challenged him, or doubted him.” They said, “If Torres wanted it, he got it. If Torres said it, it must be true.… Torres had carte blanche in all areas of the union.”

Outside of the probation department, Torres was a longtime basketball coach at St. Joseph High School in Santa Maria, where he lives. He led both the boys’ and girls’ teams for a combined 27 seasons, winning seven CIF Southern Section championships and two CIF state titles. He was abruptly and quietly dismissed in 2019.

Torres had filed for an “unplanned” early retirement from his probation post just days before the criminal investigation commenced. His annual salary at the time was $101,000.


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