A federal judge said Monday that former Missouri governor Roger Wilson's otherwise exemplary record of public service helped him avoid a prison term.
Chief Magistrate Judge Mary Ann Medler instead sentenced Wilson, 63, to two years of probation in connection with a campaign money laundering scheme that first came to light last September.
Federal guidelines allowed for up to six months in prison for Wilson. But Medler cited the many letters of support for him.
"Mr. Wilson, you should be grateful and humbled by the number of people who went to bat for you," the judge said.
"I am," Wilson said.
Wilson then apologized for his actions.
"There are no excuses," he said in a St. Louis courtroom that included about a dozen supporters, his wife and daughter. "I made a mistake. I apologize for that mistake, and I deeply regret it."
Medler also ordered Wilson to pay a $5,000 fine and $5,000 in restitution, and he must complete 100 hours of community service.
At the hearing, Wilson's attorney, Robert Haar, noted that his client's mistake was "out of character with the way he has dealt with people in his entire life."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Hal Goldsmith did not oppose Wilson's probation.
Wilson pleaded guilty in April to a misdemeanor count of improperly steering $8,000 in campaign donations to the state Democratic Party through a St. Louis law firm.
Federal authorities alleged that Wilson transferred the money while he was the top executive of Missouri Employers Mutual Insurance Co., a state-created workers' compensation agency.
Authorities accused Wilson, who led the agency from 2009 until last year, of taking part in a scheme in which the Herzog Crebs law firm of St. Louis made two donations totaling $8,000 to the state Democratic Party, then billed the insurance agency for legal work to cover the donations.
With Wilson's approval, the insurance agency reimbursed the law firm. He did not advise its board of directors about the real purpose of the reimbursements.
In the second donation, totaling $3,000, Wilson reimbursed the insurance agency with a personal check after its lawyer questioned the legal billing.
After an internal investigation, the insurance agency placed Wilson on leave and then terminated him.
Wilson was governor for about three months at the end of 2000 and into 2001 after Democratic Gov. Mel Carnahan died in a plane crash. Wilson also was a state senator for 14 years, then twice was elected lieutenant governor during the years Carnahan was governor.
He considered running for governor himself in 2000, but he ultimately backed away.
Also sentenced Monday at a separate hearing was St. Louis attorney Edward Griesedieck III, a former Herzog Crebs partner. He was indicted and pleaded guilty to the same misdemeanor charge.
Griesedieck, 53, of suburban St. Louis, was placed on probation for one year and agreed to give up his law license for 18 months. He also must pay a $5,000 fine and $5,000 in restitution and complete 100 hours of community service.