updated 7/3/2008 2:05:09 PM ET 2008-07-03T18:05:09

The former chief executive of Refco Inc. was sentenced Thursday to 16 years in prison for a financial cover-up that brought down one of the world's largest commodities brokerages.

Phillip Bennett, 59, a British citizen living in Gladstone, N.J., had previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit securities fraud and other charges.

Bennett said he didn't meant to hurt anyone. His voice cracked when he apologized to his family for their "unimaginable agony."

U.S. District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald imposed the sentence, saying the 20 separate crimes Bennett admitted he had committed and the $1.5 billion in losses he had caused were enough to explain it.

"To sentence you, I don't have to paint you as a monster and I have no intention of doing so," Buchwald said.

But she said Bennett and others like him who break the law in their zeal to be among the world's richest people are "staggeringly arrogant."

"You and others like you play a truly high stakes poker game," Buchwald said.

Prosecutors had asked that Bennett be sentenced to between 16.5 and 22 years in prison.

The judge told Bennett to remain at his New Jersey home until he reports to prison on Sept. 4. She rejected a request by prosecutors that he be sent to prison immediately.

Refco went public in August 2005. It filed for bankruptcy just weeks later — after disclosing that a $430 million debt owed to Refco by a firm controlled by Bennett had been concealed. The disclosure caused Refco's stock value to plummet.

Before he was sentenced, Bennett said he had the best of intentions when he made an "unacceptable and appalling error" in handling Refco's finances.

"In doing so, I not only broke the law, I put in harm's way the very people I intended to help," he said.

Buchwald said restitution will be worked out at a later date.

The judge said she did not consider the fact he will be deported to England after serving his sentence because it is "a highly civilized, cultured and familiar country."

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 This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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