By Nate Raymond
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A former Italian politician was sentenced on Thursday to four years in a U.S. prison for conspiring with others to sell $15 million worth of weapons to undercover informants posing as Colombian rebels.
Massimo Romagnoli, 45, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Ronnie Abrams in Manhattan after pleading guilty last year to charges that he conspired to provide material support to terrorists and conspired to murder U.S. officers and employees.
He faced up to life in prison. But Abrams credited Romagnoli for cooperating with authorities, including by testifying against Virgil Flaviu Georgescu, an accused international arms trafficker who was convicted at a trial in May.
"It's not an easy thing to do to put yourself at risk and cooperate against others," the judge said.
Romagnoli, Georgescu and another defendant, Cristian Vintila, an ex-director of the Romanian agency responsible for buying arms for its military, were arrested in Montenegro in 2014 in a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration sting operation.
Prosecutors said that earlier that year, 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 Georgescu was a well-connected arms-broker, prosecutors said. As a result, they said, 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 $15 million weapons deal, and recruited Vintila and Romagnoli to help facilitate it.
Romagnoli had a background in business and politics. He was elected to the lower house of the Italian Parliament in 2006 and later was appointed by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to be a top official in Sicily in the Forza Italy party.
In court on Thursday, Romagnoli, wearing tan jail clothing, through an Italian translator said he was "naive" and had not considered the ramifications of getting involved in the weapons deal and what damage such a transaction could cause.
"I'm sorry and I apologize to this court for my actions," he said.
Romagnoli is expected to receive credit for the time he has already served since his December 2014 arrest.
His sentencing came after Abrams on Tuesday sentenced Vintila to four years in prison, given his cooperation in the case and other DEA investigations.
Georgescu, a U.S. citizen born in Romania, faces up to life in prison when he is sentenced on Dec. 2.
(Reporting by Nate Raymond in New York; Editing by Dan Grebler)