U.S. District Judge Robert Aguilar was sentenced Thursday to six months in prison for lying to the FBI and disclosing wiretap information to a mobster.
Aguilar, 59, faces almost certain impeachment by Congress unless he resigns his lifetime post. He is only the second federal judge in the past decade to be convicted of a felony and the fourth to be indicted in that time.Aguilar turned to his attorney Paul Meltzer in stunned relief as the sentence was pronounced. He could have been sentenced to as much as 27 months in prison.
U.S. District Judge Louis Bechtle also ordered Aguilar to pay a $2,100 fine and give 1,000 hours of community service upon his release. Bechtle ordered Aguilar to serve his term in the federal facility at Duluth, Minnesota.
Aguilar, a federal judge for 10 years, will remain free without bail while he appeals his conviction.
Bechtle, brought in from Philadelphia to preside over both Aguilar's trials, noted Aguilar is beginning the process of impeachment, disbarment as a lawyer and that rates a reduction in the sentence.
"It will be a long humiliating and embarrassing process . . . a punishment is warranted but so is some degree of departure downward (from the eligible 21 month to 27 month term)," he said.
Meltzer, in urging a reduced sentence said, "You have a man before you who has been destroyed."
Aguilar was convicted in August of trying to obstruct justice by lying to the FBI about his role in an alleged conspiracy to influence the criminal case of Teamsters Union embezzler Rudy Tham and disclosing wiretap surveillance to 84-year-old mobster, Abe Chapman.
It was the second trial for Aguilar. The first ended in a deadlocked jury.
He is one of the few Hispanic federal judges in the nation and earned a reputation as a liberal jurist.
He remains a federal judge and will continue to collect his $96,000-a-year salary even though he has agreed not to hear cases. Federal judges are appointed for life and leave office only through death, retirement or impeachment by Congress.
In 1989, Aguilar became the first judge in the country ever charged with racketeering, a law usually used against suspected mobsters. He was accused of using his judicial office as a criminal enterprise. That count was dropped after jurors deadlocked on the charge in his first trial.
Of the four federal judges indicted in the last decade, Aguilar was only the second convicted. The three others were impeached by Congress.
Aguilar's defense was an attack on the government, accusing federal agents of prosecuting him in retaliation for his liberal, sometimes anti-government, rulings.