A former top executive at Boeing Co. was sentenced to four months in prison today for illegally negotiating a $250,000-a-year job for an Air Force procurement officer...

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ALEXANDRIA, Va. — A former top executive at Boeing Co. was sentenced to four months in prison today for illegally negotiating a $250,000-a-year job for an Air Force procurement officer who was overseeing a potential multibillion-dollar contract for the company.

Michael Sears, 57, pleaded guilty in November to a single count of aiding and abetting illegal employment negotiations. Specifically, Sears, who was chief financial officer of the aerospace giant until he was fired in 2003, negotiated to hire Darleen Druyun at the same time Druyun held sway over a contract sought by Boeing that was worth billions of dollars.

Federal sentencing guidelines called for a prison term of up to six months. Sears’ lawyers sought probation.

U.S. District Judge Gerald Bruce Lee said jail time was appropriate, though he acknowledged that Sears’ conduct wasn’t as severe as that of Druyun, who initiated the job negotiations.

“Yours is not equal to hers,” Lee said.

Druyun is serving a nine-month sentence at a minimum-security prison camp for female offenders in Marianna, Fla. Her expected release date is Oct. 1.

At the hearing, Sears apologized to the Air Force, the Department of Defense and U.S. citizens for his actions.

“I take full responsibility for this bad decision,” he said. “I know what I did was wrong.”

U.S. Attorney Paul J. McNulty said Sears “had the choice of putting the interests of The Boeing Co. ahead of the taxpayers. He put Boeing’s interests first and that was the wrong choice.”

McNulty said the investigation into Boeing was continuing and he announced creation of a multi-agency effort to seek out similar instances of fraud.

Sears’ lawyer, Ted Poulos, said his client was put in a bad spot by Druyun, who had already negotiated a job deal with a Boeing competitor even though she was still overseeing the tanker contract.

“All of her conduct stands in stark contrast to Mr. Sears’ conduct,” Poulos said.

Druyun eventually admitted that she gave Boeing an inflated price on the $23 billion contract to provide new refueling tankers to the Air Force as a “parting gift” to Boeing before she retired from the military and took her job with the contractor.

Druyun also admitted giving preferential treatment to Boeing on other contracts through the years.

The Pentagon subsequently canceled Boeing’s tanker contract and is reviewing other contracts in which Druyun may have acted illegally. Prosecutors said the investigations alone have cost the government about $2.5 million.

Shares of Boeing fell 93 cents to $52.79 in afternoon trading on the New York Stock Exchange.