updated 10/15/2006 2:50:33 AM ET 2006-10-15T06:50:33

A U.S. military pilot who flew a U.S. Air Force jet from New York to Germany to pick up 200,000 pills of Ecstasy was sentenced Friday to 17 1/2 years in prison.

U.S. District Judge John G. Koeltl rejected appeals by defense lawyers for leniency for Capt. Franklin Rodriguez of the U.S. Air National Guard.

Koeltl said the sentence was appropriate for "a particularly egregious and despicable crime."

"He took these actions while other members of the military are over there bravely fighting for our country," Koeltl said.

Rodriguez, 36, and Master Sgt. John Fong, 37, of the U.S. Air National Guard had pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges, admitting their roles in the April 2005 flight. Fong is awaiting sentencing.

"I just chose the wrong thing and my family suffered," Rodriguez said before he was sentenced. "I loved my job, that I served my country, and I'm sorry for what I've done," he said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Scott L. Marrah told Koeltl that Rodriguez had repeatedly flown drugs on military flights, bringing hundreds of thousands of Ecstasy pills into the United States aboard cargo aircraft.

He said more than $700,000 in cash was found in a safe in Rodriguez's Bronx apartment.

Rodriguez, the pilot, and Fong, a load master, both of New York City, were arrested after flying the Air Force plane from Stewart Air National Guard Base in Newburgh, N.Y., to Germany and returning to Newburgh.

Ecstasy is a synthetic drug considered part hallucinogen, part amphetamine.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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