Ex-Puerto Rico senator sentenced to 5 years

AP News
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Posted: May 17, 2011 6:21 PM
Ex-Puerto Rico senator sentenced to 5 years

An influential former senator whose testimony helped convict an ex-colleague and has bolstered federal investigations against other high-ranking politicians was sentenced on Tuesday to five years in prison after having pleaded guilty to corruption charges.

Jorge de Castro Font, 47, remained stoic as the judge read the sentence, which includes three years of supervised release.

De Castro's sentencing had been repeatedly delayed as he continued to cooperate with federal prosecutors in other corruption cases, and his sentence could be further reduced if he keeps cooperating. Prosecutors had sought a nine-year sentence.

The ex-senator delivered a 15-minute speech before he was sentenced, recalling how he and other politicians were offered trips to Miami and the Dominican Republic and access to private boats and planes during fundraising campaigns.

"Basically, we prostituted ourselves," he said. "It made us betray what our parents taught us, and we started using it for our personal things."

De Castro also reminded the judge several times of his help in other corruption cases after pleading guilty in exchange for a reduced sentence.

"I have done nothing else since that day your honor but help the government of the United States," he said. "I know what I did was wrong, and I am sorry. But like any witness... what is fair is fair. I worked and I made an effort."

On Tuesday, Judge Francisco Besosa closed the courtroom for several hours while de Castro testified again about his cooperation in several investigations that Besosa said still might be active.

"Your elocution today has demonstrated sincere repentance," Besosa said before reading the sentence, which comes more than two years after de Castro pleaded guilty to 20 counts of honest services wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit extortion after prosecutors agreed to drop 10 other charges.

Defense attorney Hector Guzman praised the reduced sentence but disagreed with it overall.

"I'm satisfied if everybody walks out in every case I have," he said.

De Castro was accused of soliciting up to $525,000 in cash and other benefits including meals and private flights from 2005 to 2008 and of promising to block or advance certain bills as chair of the powerful rules committee. He also was accused of threatening to damage the interests of business owners if they refused to pay. A federal grand jury indictment alleged that he used the money to pay for expenses including credit card bills, home utilities and clothing. It also alleged that he asked a person with business before the Senate to pay half his sister's salary at an advertising firm.

"By trading dollars for official acts, he undermined the trust that the people of Puerto Rico placed in him," Assistant U.S. Attorney General Lanny Breuer said in a statement.

Prosecutor Timothy Henwood said de Castro "got caught up with the power and control that the position provided him."

In closing arguments, Guzman said de Castro is destitute and tried to commit suicide.

In August 2008, the FBI raided the former senator's home and office and seized evidence. Three months later, they arrested him.

At the time, de Castro was the spokesman for the pro-statehood New Progressive Party, and he had been seeking re-election for a sixth term.

He still faces a criminal trial at the local level for similar charges.

The case against de Castro was one of several federal corruption probes in recent years targeting high-profile politicians.