James M. Woosley thought he’d never get caught.

Woosley, the former acting intelligence chief for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, didn’t appear to try to hide the embezzlement of more than $500,000 from the agency, according to his attorney, William C. Brennan Jr.

In a fake travel voucher scheme, Woosley used his government e-mail account to direct at least one of his collaborators — who included several colleagues and a lover — to pay him kickbacks, or “rent” for a home he leased with fellow employees.

“For reasons unknown, Mr. Woosley did not expect that this scheme would be uncovered, and took virtually no steps to conceal the criminal conduct,” Brennan wrote in a sentencing memorandum to the court. “Mr. Woosley understands that he now stands before the Court a thief.”

Woosley was sentenced Friday in U.S. District Court in Washington to 20 months in prison.

U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson also ordered Woosley, 48, formerly of Tucson, to pay about $188,000 in restitution for the stolen money directly linked to him and to pay a $100 special assessment. He faces three years of supervised release.

In May, nearly 15 months after he was walked off the job and placed on administrative leave, Woosley pleaded guilty to a charge of conversion of public money. He resigned from the agency in the fall.

The scheme, which ran from about May 2008 to February 2011, involved intelligence workers under Woosley who submitted fake claims for reimbursement for hotel lodging, rental cars and other expenses.

The highest-ranking official involved in the scheme, Woosley is the fourth of five defendants to be sentenced. The remaining defendant, William J. Korn, 53, faces sentencing later this month.

Although Woosley received the most prison time of those sentenced to date, it’s unclear whether he was merely an enabling boss or the ringleader. For some, it doesn’t matter.

“Bottom line: James Woosley violated the public trust in pursuit of his own greed,” Timothy Moynihan, director of the agency’s Office of Professional Responsibility, said in a statement.

Woosley spent about 28 years in federal government.

Much of that time was with the defunct Immigration and Naturalization Service, which was split up in 2002 with the formation of the Department of Homeland Security. He held positions in Los Angeles, Tucson, El Paso and the District, along with international posts, before he became the acting intelligence director in 2009.

Discovery of the scheme sparked a top-to-bottom review of the agency’s Homeland Security Investigations intelligence office, which has about 450 employees and an $81.5 million budget.

Cliff Landsman, who made Woosley his deputy when he was the Immigration and Naturalization Service’s assistant commissioner for intelligence, said his former employee’s actions were out of character.

“I don’t understand what the goal of all of this was,” he said.

Brennan said, “Mr. Woosley accepts his sentence, and is anxious to move on with his life.”

The scheme began less than a year after Woosley met his future assistant and lover, Lateisha M. Rollerson, 38, of Bowie, while she worked part time at a Safeway in Arlington County and for another federal agency, court records show.

He helped her get a job as a contractor writing intelligence reports, then as an agency employee and finally as his assistant.

Together, they submitted false attendance forms and claims for fake travel and received payments from colleagues who had also filed fraudulent or inflated travel claims. Rollerson also counterfeited receipts, in some cases without others knowing it, court records show.

Woosley and Rollerson, in turn, used the kickbacks, which totaled more than $100,000, to make mortgage payments for his house, invest in real estate and buy a boat.

Rollerson was sentenced last month to 10 months’ jail time and ordered to repay $295,866. Ahmed Adil Abdallat, 64, of El Paso was sentenced to a year and a day, and Stephen E. Henderson, 62, of Asheville, N.C., got three months. They were also ordered to pay restitution, which tallied more than $116,392 for Abdallat and $54,387 for Henderson.

In the sentencing memorandum, Brennan dismissed assertions by Henderson and Korn that Woosley was the ringleader and pressured them to participate. It was Rollerson, he argued, who concocted and carried out much of the plan, albeit with Woosley’s approval.

“The scheme likely would not have begun or endured for as long as it did without Ms. Rollerson,” the memo says, “but would have never succeeded in the first place without Mr. Woosley.”

Andrew Becker is a reporter for the Center for Investigative Reporting. He can be reached at abecker@cironline.org.