REPORTING FROM NEW YORK -- A federal court judge sentenced convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout to 25 years in prison Thursday, but in a swipe at prosecutors said there was no convincing evidence that he would have committed the crimes alleged if he had not been the target of a sting operation.
Judge Shira Scheindlin gave the 45-year-old Russian the minimum mandatory sentence for conspiring to acquire and use antiaircraft missiles.
She also sentenced him to 15 years on three other counts of conspiracy to kill Americans and conspiracy to provide material support to a terrorist organization -- the Colombian rebel group known as FARC -- with those sentences to run concurrently with the 25-year term.
Prosecutors had asked for life in prison for Bout, who was convicted in November. In a statement before the sentence was passed, prosecutor Brendan McGuire called Bout's alleged plot to sell a massive weapons trove to FARC rebels to use against Americans in Colombia "simply chilling."
Bout appeared in court unshackled, in khaki pants and a khaki shirt. He made a brief and angry statement, pointing at federal agents in the crowded courtroom and accusing them of lying about him. "They will live with this. ... They'll have to raise their children with this truth," he said bitterly in Russian as a translator repeated the words in English.
At one point early in McGuire's statement, Bout shouted, "It's a lie!"
Defense attorney Albert Dayan made an impassioned plea for the minimum sentence, saying that Bout had been out of the arms business for years and that the case against him was based on "words, just words."
He was referring to the secretly recorded meetings that prosecutors used in their case. "He didn't hurt anyone. He was a businessman," Dayan said.
The judge, in explaining her sentence, said that although Bout had a history of dealing arms "to some of the most vicious and violent regimes in the world," he had not sought out a deal with FARC. "Rather, he embraced an opportunity presented to him," she said, adding that prosecutors' use of terror-enhancement charges was "fundamentally unfair."
Bout has been dubbed the “Merchant of Death” for allegedly smuggling arms to terrorists and armies across the Middle East, South America and Africa, reportedly funneling weapons to the late Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi, Angolan and Colombian rebels and former Liberian leader Charles Taylor.
-- Tina Susman in New York and Emily Alpert in Los Angeles
Photo: Russian arms trafficker Viktor Bout in U.S. custody after being flown from Bangkok to New York on Nov. 16, 2010. Credit: Associated Press/ U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration