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Football: US judge sentences Guatemalan in FIFA scandal

New York (AFP) – A US judge on Wednesday imposed the first sentence in the sweeping FIFA corruption scandal, sending a Guatemalan former official to jail for eight months and saying that he had destroyed people’s faith in soccer.

Hector Trujillo, 64, stood with his head bowed, eyes cast toward the floor and wiped away tears as he heard his fate in a federal court in Brooklyn, four months after pleading guilty to wire fraud and conspiracy.

Judge Pamela Chen ruled that Trujillo, the former general secretary of Guatemala’s Football Federation from 2009 to 2015 and a one-time judge on the country’s constitutional court, would begin his sentence November 20 in Florida.

Trujillo has already served one month, prior to being allowed to live in the Sunshine State on a $4 million bail. He will likely be deported upon release.

Prosecutors say he and other officials accepted $400,000 in kickbacks from a Miami-based sports marketing company in exchange for media and marketing rights to Guatemala’s qualifier matches for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

“These are serious crimes,” Chen told the court. “I think Mr Trujillo feels remorse more about himself. I’m not sure for other people,” the judge added.

The defendant, she said, had betrayed the trust of people who depend on officials like him “to do your job with honesty and good faith, and you’ve destroyed it — what people feel for soccer in general.”

“In some ways he destroyed his country. Soccer is the national love and a patriotic endeavor. He eroded… the pride of his country. He should have known better and done better when he took that money,” Chen concluded.

The largest corruption scandal in the history of soccer, first unveiled in May 2015, has seen US prosecutors indict 42 football and sports marketing executives with allegedly receiving tens of millions of bribes and kickbacks.

– ‘I was blind’ –

Like many of the indicted, Trujillo cut a deal with prosecutors hoping for leniency and pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud and one count of wire fraud conspiracy in June.

Wednesday’s sentence was far lighter than the 41-month minimum requested by government prosecutors. The judge said she took into account Trujillo’s age, poor health and nearly two years of house arrest.

In a long plea in self-defense, during which he broke down into tears as his children sobbed in the front row, Trujillo begged the judge for mercy.

“Looking back I think I was blind. I did not see it,” he sobbed, dressed in a dark suit, stripey tie and pale blue shirt.

“Maybe I justified it by thinking it was something normal. I thought it was something different from the corruption I fought so many years,” he claimed. 

The judge ordered Trujillo to foot a $415,000 bill to pay back the Guatemalan soccer federation — shared with two co-defendants, and said he would also have to pay $175,000 restitution to the US government.

The former lawyer was arrested on December 4, 2015 while on a family cruise in Florida and initially pleaded not guilty to eight charges against him.

In January 2016, he posted his $4 million bond, surrendering his passport and submitting to electronic monitoring.

The US corruption investigation precipitated the downfall of longtime FIFA president Sepp Blatter and his former heir apparent, Michel Platini.

Just three Latin American defendants who have continued to plead not guilty are due to go on trial in a US federal court in Brooklyn on November 6.

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