NEW YORK (AP) — A former judge who led Guatemala’s soccer federation became the first person sentenced in the U.S. in the FIFA world soccer corruption scandal when a judge ordered him to serve eight months in prison, saying his bribe money could have been used to build soccer fields for poor children.
Hector Trujillo, 63, was sentenced in federal court in Brooklyn on Wednesday by Judge Pamela K. Chen. He had pleaded guilty to wire fraud and conspiracy in June. Besides the prison term, the judge also ordered him to pay $415,000 in restitution.
The judge said the $175,000 in bribes that Trujillo pocketed to steer sports marketing contracts to the federation over several years was money “that should have been used to build soccer fields in poor neighborhoods” or buy uniforms for young players.
Trujillo said his conscience failed him when he accepted the bribes. He choked up as he asked the judge for forgiveness, saying he’d suffered enough.
Prosecutors had asked that the former general secretary of Guatemala’s soccer federation serve more than three years in prison. Defense lawyers asked for no prison time for crimes between 2009 and 2016.
Free on $4 million bail, Trujillo has been staying in Miami. He was arrested in December 2015 in Port Canaveral, Florida, during a Disney cruise with his family. He spent more than a month in prison before home confinement was ordered.
Prosecutors said in pre-sentence papers that Trujillo minimized the seriousness of his crime by noting he did not violate the laws of Guatemala, even as he indisputably broke FIFA rules.
“While the defendant may not have played the largest role or pocketed the most money of all of the defendants in the case, his conduct nevertheless shows that he engaged in the same type of conduct as the rest of the corrupt soccer officials who have been charged,” prosecutors wrote. “And that corrupt conduct requires a significant sentence.”
Defense lawyers had asked for leniency, saying the prosecution had ended Trujillo’s “successful and prominent career and tarnished his spotless reputation as a respected jurist and advocate.” They said his arrest had forced him to resign from his position as an alternate judge on Guatemala’s constitutional court.
They also cited debilitating back and hip pain that worsened during several weeks of incarceration after his arrest and his subsequent home confinement.
The U.S. investigation of corruption linked to FIFA has resulted in indictments or guilty pleas from more than 40 people and marketing agencies linked to soccer in the Americas since 2015. Many of the charges involve bribes paid around the organization of regional tournaments and World Cup qualifying games.
Prosecutors in Switzerland also have been investigating. FIFA has conducted internal investigations of corruption and self-dealing.
By LARRY NEUMEISTER, Associated Press
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