MIAMI (Reuters) - A former Venezuelan judge was sentenced to six years and eight months in prison in U.S. court in Miami on Monday after being accused of taking bribes from a South American drug cartel boss.
Benny Palmeri-Bacchi pleaded guilty in November to money laundering, extortion and conspiring to obstruct justice.
Prosecutors agreed to seek a lenient sentence for his cooperation with a U.S. push against prominent Venezuelan officials suspected of assisting Colombian drug traffickers.
“I feel very remorseful and I ask for mercy,” he told U.S. Judge Ursula Ungaro in Spanish, speaking through an English translator.
He was sentenced to 80 months in prison for each of the three counts to which he pleaded guilty but was allowed to serve the sentences simultaneously.
Under his plea deal, U.S. prosecutors dropped a charge of drug trafficking against Palmeri-Bacchi, which had carried a possible term of life in prison.
Palmeri-Bacchi received three years supervised release following his sentence, but he is expected to be deported.
“We have a very favorable plea agreement and very aggravated behavior,” Ungaro said at the hearing, noting the charges of public corruption.
“We’re talking about narco trafficking at the highest level,” she said.
Attorneys for Palmeri-Bacchi declined to comment, as did U.S. prosecutors.
Arrested last summer in Miami en route to a family vacation at Disney World, Palmeri-Bacchi was charged with helping a Colombian drug leader send “thousands of kilograms of cocaine” from Venezuela to the United States, according to court records.
He was charged along with Rodolfo McTurk, the former director of Interpol in Venezuela, who was never taken into U.S. custody.
Palmeri-Bacchi’s arrest came as part of a U.S. effort also targeting Venezuela’s former intelligence chief, Hugo Carvajal, who was charged in a May 2013 indictment with conspiring to smuggle cocaine into the United States.
Carvajal was detained on the Caribbean island of Aruba in July but returned to Venezuela shortly after.
Reporting by Zachary Fagenson; Writing by Letitia Stein; Editing by Eric Beech