NEW YORK (AP) — A tearful U.S. citizen who bribed a top United Nations official to get support for business ventures was sentenced to 20 months in prison Friday by a judge who said bribery schemes do "substantial damage" to the U.N.'s image.
Sheri Yan, 60, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Vernon Broderick in Manhattan after pleading guilty to a bribery charge in January.
The judge said prison was necessary because of the seriousness of the crime.
"There is substantial damage done to the U.N. and the image of the U.N. itself," Broderick said. "Whenever members of institutions accept or are given bribes, it diminishes that institution."
Yan admitted paying more than $800,000 in bribes to former U.N. General Assembly President John Ashe, who died several weeks ago in an accident at home. He was awaiting trial after pleading not guilty to a tax charge in the case.
Before the sentence was announced, Yan apologized, saying: "I will be forever punishing myself."
"I am very, very, very sorry," she said, a stack of tissues she had used to wipe away tears resting on the table before her.
Broderick rejected a request to keep Yan out of prison by defense attorney Christine Chung, who cited Yan's difficult childhood and "the shame and dishonor and the ripping down of her whole life" that resulted after her arrest last fall. Prosecutors sought a nearly six-year prison term.
Chung described Ashe as a predator, seeking money at every turn.
"He had his hand out constantly," she said.
Chung said Yan, born in the Anhui province in China, was forcibly separated from her brother and their parents for six years in 1966 by the Cultural Revolution when her father, a painter and poet, and mother, an editor and news broadcaster, were forced into labor or "re-education."
She came to the United States in 1987 with $400 sewn into her clothes and worked as a nanny and home attendant in Washington D.C., where she met her husband, the lawyer said. She became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 2001.
Chung said she was working as a consultant when she met Ashe in early 2012 in Hong Kong, where Ashe offered to make her an adviser when he became president of the General Assembly. By spring 2012, Yan was passing along bribes to Ashe.
Prosecutors say funds for the bribes came largely from Ng Lap Seng, the Chinese head of a major real estate development company in Macau. Yan's plea agreement said she gave bribes to Ashe to persuade officials in Antigua to enter into business contracts with foreign companies. At the time, Ashe was an ambassador from Antigua and Barbuda.
Ng, a billionaire, has pleaded not guilty to charges and is awaiting a January trial.