updated 2/13/2008 6:12:57 PM ET 2008-02-13T23:12:57

A plastic surgeon who replaced the fingerprints of a man involved in a drug ring with skin from the bottom of his feet was sentenced Wednesday to 18 months in prison.

U.S. District Judge Yvette Kane called the crime "horrific" when she imposed the sentence on Dr. Jose Covarrubias.

Covarrubias, a U.S. citizen who lived in the border town of Nogales, Ariz., and practiced in Mexico, pleaded guilty Nov. 1 to a federal charge of harboring and concealing a fugitive.

He apologized to Kane for his conduct, and said he had learned his lesson.

Covarrubias, 50, has been held in Adams County Jail for about 10 months and can be released in eight months. After that, he faces three years probation.

Covarrubias' lawyer, Joseph Metz, said the sentence was fair.

The case was bizarre even to prosecutors, who didn't believe the stories of drug ring operatives without fingerprints — until Marc George was arrested in September 2005 at the Nogales border crossing, bandaged and limping badly from the painful procedure.

Covarrubias was indicted in May by a grand jury in Harrisburg. Prosecutors say the drug ring moved cash and drugs from Tucson and elsewhere and distributed more than a ton of it in central Pennsylvania, Philadelphia and other areas.

Covarrubias could have faced a sentence that was about twice as long, said William Behe, a federal prosecutor.

But Kane ruled that prosecutors couldn't prove Covarrubias knew about the specific crimes being committed by George, who has pleaded guilty to money laundering conspiracy.

Kane took another six months off the sentence because Covarrubias has cooperated with authorities who were investigating some of his other clients.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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