July 17, 2007 / 8:16 PM / 10 years ago

Filipino gets 6 years prison in Cheney spy case

3 Min Read

NEWARK, New Jersey (Reuters) - A former top police official in the Philippines who admitted receiving classified information stolen from U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney's office was sentenced to more than six years in prison on Tuesday.

Michael Ray Aquino struck a deal with prosecutors last July and pleaded guilty to unlawfully possessing and retaining documents and information relating to national defense that had been stolen by an FBI analyst.

The case caused a political scandal in the Philippines because the documents were used by opponents of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to try to oust her.

"I never had the intention to harm the United States. I love this country," Aquino told the court. "I would like to apologize for my actions, I'm sorry for what I've done."

U.S. District Judge William Walls sentenced Aquino to 76 months in prison. He will receive credit for nearly two years already served and after completing his sentence will be deported to the Philippines where he faces accusations of double murder.

"The national interests of this country were disturbed, if not in peril," Walls told Aquino.

The judge rejected the prosecution's assertion that Aquino was a foreign agent, a designation that could have meant a longer prison sentence for the ex-deputy police chief.

Prosecutor Karl Buch told reporters outside court, "His conduct caused real harm to the United States government and he was punished accordingly."

Aquino became involved through his attempts to introduce the central figure in the case -- former Cheney security aide and FBI analyst Leandro Aragoncillo -- to a leading opposition politician in the Philippines who once ran the national police.

Aquino admitted receiving e-mails from Aragoncillo in January 2005 that contained sensitive information, including threats to the U.S. military in the Philippines and confidential intelligence sources and methods of the U.S. government.

Philippine-born Aragoncillo, a U.S. citizen and former Marine, pleaded guilty last year to charges that he took top-secret documents from Cheney's office and turned them over to Philippine opposition figures.

Aragoncillo worked on the security detail assigned to the vice president from 1999 to 2002, where he held a top security clearance. He later took a job as an intelligence analyst with the FBI in New Jersey.

He is due to be sentenced on Wednesday and faces a maximum of 15 to 20 years in prison.

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