BARI, Italy (Reuters) - A southern Italian court convicted a businessman of paying prostitutes to attend parties thrown by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and sentenced him on Friday to seven years and 10 months in prison.
The businessman, Giampaolo Tarantini, was accused of lining up prostitutes for Berlusconi as a way of ingratiating himself with the prime minister and winning lucrative public contracts.
The 79-year-old Berlusconi, who still leads his conservative Forza Italia party but has not been the head of government since 2011, was not on trial.
Six other people were charged, including Sabina Beganovic, an alleged madam for escorts who is often called the "Queen Bee" by the Italian media. Three were convicted, including Beganovic, who was sentenced to 16 months. Three others were acquitted.
The first-degree court ruling is not definitive. Tarantini and Beganovic, who deny any wrongdoing, have two chances to appeal before they have to face any jail time.
Berlusconi was caught up in a series of sex scandals that undermined his political career. But he was eventually acquitted of having paid for sex with Karima El Mahroug, better known under her stage name "Ruby the Heartstealer", when she was still a minor.
The Tarantini case erupted in 2009, before the Ruby case, when Patrizia D'Addario released recordings to the Italian media she said she made with her cell phone on a night she had sex with Berlusconi after a dinner party. She said Tarantini had arranged for her to go and had paid her afterward.
In the recordings, a man said to be Berlusconi tells D'Addario to wait for him "on the big bed," while he takes a shower. "I'm no saint," Berlusconi said unapologetically shortly after the scandal broke.
(Reporting by Vincenzo Damiani, writing by Steve Scherer, editing by Larry King)