NEW YORK (Reuters) - A former Guatemalan judge who once served as a general secretary of the executive board of the Central American country’s soccer federation was sentenced to eight months in prison on Wednesday, the first person to be sentenced in a U.S. probe into bribery surrounding world soccer governing body FIFA.
Hector Trujillo, 64, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Pamela Chen in Brooklyn, New York. Trujillo had pleaded guilty to wire fraud and conspiracy in June, admitting that he took kickbacks from a marketing company in exchange for his help securing media and marketing rights for World Cup qualifying matches.
At least 42 people and entities have been charged in a U.S. probe into the payment of more than $200 million of bribes and kickbacks to soccer officials, in exchange for marketing and broadcast rights ahead of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup soccer tournaments.
Before being sentenced, Trujillo said through an interpreter that he had thought of the payments as reward for his hard work, and as “common practice.”
“I have to admit that my conscience failed me,” he said. “My own moral judgment failed me.”
Trujillo, a former judge on the Constitutional Court of Guatemala, asked to be allowed to return to Guatemala without serving any prison time, saying he had already suffered enough in the nearly two years spent in the United States since his arrest, apart from his family.
Chen, however, said that would send the “wrong message” to others participating in what U.S. prosecutors have called a pervasive culture of corruption in sport.
The sentence was less than the 33 to 41 months called for by federal sentencing guidelines. Chen said she decided on her sentence in part by considering similar cases, including that of former U.S. Representative Michael Grimm of New York, who was sentenced to eight months for tax evasion.
Chen also said Trujillo, along with other defendants, would be liable for $415,000 in restitution, but ordered more briefing from attorneys to decide how it would be paid.
Trujillo was arrested in December 2015 on a Disney cruise ship docked in Port Canaveral, Florida. U.S. prosecutors charged that he accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes, to be shared with other Guatemalan soccer officials.
One of those other officials was Brayan Jimenez, who had served as president of Guatemala’s soccer federation, prosecutors said.
Jimenez pleaded guilty last July to racketeering conspiracy and wire fraud conspiracy charges. He has not been sentenced.
FIFA suspended Guatemala’s soccer federation in October 2016.
Reporting by Brendan Pierson in New York, editing by G Crosse