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Accused Romanian-born arms trafficker gets 10 years in U.S. prison

By Nate Raymond

By Nate Raymond

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A Romanian-born man was sentenced on Friday to 10 years in prison after he was convicted on U.S. charges that he conspired with two former European officials to sell $17 million worth of weapons to undercover informants posing as Colombian rebels.

Virgil Flaviu Georgescu, 44, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Ronnie Abrams in Manhattan after a federal jury in May found him guilty on charges, including that he conspired to kill officers and employees of the United States.

At trial, Georgescu denied wrongdoing and claimed he engaged in the deal to help the Central Intelligence Agency, calling the agency in 2012 to inform it of what he understood was a plot by the Colombian rebel group FARC to procure weapons.

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But Abrams said she did not accept that claim, saying Georgescu appeared to have at best had a "change of heart" after those calls and later "simply chose to lie and try to get others to lie to avoid the consequences of his conduct."

Georgescu, a U.S. citizen born in Romania, was arrested in Montenegro in 2014 following a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration sting operation.

That sting also resulted in the arrests of Cristian Vintila, a former director of the Romanian agency responsible for buying arms for its military, and Massimo Romagnoli, a former member of Italy's parliament.

Vintila, 46, and Romagnoli, 45, pleaded guilty to terrorism-related charges and agreed to testify against Georgescu. Both men were sentenced in September to four years in prison.

Prosecutors said that in 2014 Georgescu was introduced to a paid DEA informant posing as an associate of the Colombian rebel group FARC, which the U.S. government has designated a foreign terrorist organization.

The informant was told that Georgescu was a well-connected arms broker, prosecutors said. As a result, he told Georgescu that FARC was seeking weapons to shoot down American helicopters to protect its cocaine trafficking operations.

Prosecutors said Georgescu agreed to participate in the $17 million weapons deal, and recruited Vintila and Romagnoli to help facilitate it, in order to secure a multimillion-dollar profit.

"Mr. Georgescu was motivated by greed," Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrea Surrat said in court on Friday.

Georgescu, who said he sought to help the CIA after working as a Federal Bureau of Investigation informant in the early 2000s, is expected to appeal.

"It's hard for me to believe I'm standing before you for sentencing," Georgescu said to Abrams. "It's embarrassing to be in this situation."

(Reporting by Nate Raymond in New York; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)