Ex-judge 1st sentenced in US in FIFA scandal, gets 8 months
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 Brooklyn federal court on Wednesday by Judge Pamela K. Chen for his June guilty plea to conspiracy and wire fraud charges. The judge also ordered $415,000 in restitution.
The judge said $175,000 in bribes pocketed by Trujillo from 2009 to 2016 to steer sports marketing contracts from a Miami company to the federation was money “that should have been used to build soccer fields in poor neighborhoods” or buy uniforms for the athletes.
Trujillo said his conscience failed him. He choked up and asked the judge for forgiveness, saying he’d suffered enough.
Speaking through a Spanish-English interpreter, he said his arrest had brought his family “the most terrible shame” after he overcame a poor but happy childhood to become an alternate judge on Guatemala’s constitution court, where he could fight corruption and injustice.
“My intention when I entered the federation was not greed or personal profit,” he said.
Yet, he added, he rationalized the bribes as a reward for years of good work.
“I was blinded,” Trujillo said. “Reflecting on this, I have been able to understand the magnitude of this shameful mistake that I made.”
Prosecutors had asked that the former general secretary of Guatemala’s soccer federation serve more than three years in prison.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Tuchmann said Trujillo was similar to dozens of other defendants in the soccer scandal because “he seems to think that this was a victimless crime. ... It’s not a victimless crime.”
He said that attitude had been a longstanding problem with soccer officials worldwide.
“That culture of corruption needs to be stopped and deterred,” he said.
Defense lawyer Florian Miedel asked that Trujillo serve no more prison time after the month he spent incarcerated after his December 2015 arrest in Port Canaveral, Florida, during a Disney cruise. Trujillo, free on $4 million bail, has been staying in Miami.
Miedel called him the “least culpable” of more than 40 people and marketing agencies linked to soccer in the Americas who were indicted or delivered guilty pleas since 2015. Many charges involve bribes paid around the organization of regional tournaments and World Cup qualifying games.
In court papers, Miedel noted that among 27 soccer officials charged in the case were one-time presidents of soccer federations in Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Guatemala, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Paraguay, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Brazil, Venezuela and Uruguay.
“FIFA needed a serious wakeup call,” he said.
The judge echoed the remark at sentencing, adding that it was an open secret before arrests began that FIFA officials were eager to accept bribes.
“Bribery was rampant,” she said. “It was all over the world.”
After Wednesday’s sentencing, Acting U.S. Attorney Bridget Rohde explained how so many foreign soccer officials fell into the U.S. judiciary system. She warned that anyone who uses U.S. banks to facilitate corruption, including bribes, will be prosecuted.
The head of New York’s FBI office, William F. Sweeney Jr., said those charged in the case have taken advantage of the most popular sport in the world by using “their positions and power to use bribes and kickbacks to satiate their greed.”