Leslie Aikens' sentence was the minimum under federal guidelines that called for up to 19 years and seven months in prison. The 47-year-old also must pay a $5,000 fine and will be on probation for five years once his prison term is completed.
Aikens' lawyers had asked the judge to waive the guidelines and be more lenient. He refused.
"This is a very serious case," U.S. District Judge Sim Lake said. "Mr. Aikens was convicted of conspiracy to possess more than 5 kilograms of cocaine with intent to distribute it and of using his position as a Houston police officer to extort money from a drug dealer.
"A sentence within the advisory guideline range is necessary to deter such conduct by others who might consider using their position as law enforcement officers to secure private financial gain from drug dealers."
Aikens, standing before the judge, choked back tears as Lake asked him if he had anything to say.
"I'm sure at some point my family ... will find in their hearts to forgive me," Aikens said, turning to relatives seated in the courtroom. "I'm sure it will take me a while longer, in my heart, to forgive myself."
The former officer said that while he always had tried to carry himself with dignity and respect, the trust citizens had placed in him had been broken.
"Nothing I can say forever to replace that," he said, his voice halting. "I find myself in an unfortunate position that I could never imagine finding myself in."
Aikens spent nearly 19 years on the Houston police force, was one year short of retirement and had risen to rank of sergeant, when he was arrested in March 2011 by FBI agents in an undercover operation that also included Texas Rangers and Houston police. He was charged and convicted last November of two counts of possession with intent to deliver of 7 kilograms of cocaine for using his patrol car to protect another vehicle carrying the drugs and of extortion for taking the bribe money.
Jurors at his two-day trial in Houston heard and saw tapes detailing the drug deal. He also confessed to authorities.
Jim McAlister, the assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted Aikens, took the unusual step of apologizing to about a half-dozen of Aikens' relatives who gathered outside the courtroom after the sentencing. Aikens had turned down offers to plead guilty, an action that likely would have given him only five or six years in prison, he told them.
"We did everything we could to get him to take a plea bargain," McAlister said. "I guarantee he would have received a lot less time. I'm sorry."
Robert Jones, Aikens' lawyer, said he too was baffled by Aikens' refusal to take a plea deal.
"I think it's pride," he said. "I don't know. A lot of people, in my view, say: I'm not going to admit guilt."
Jones said he would appeal the conviction. He told the judge that prison would be "an awful place" for the former police officer.
"He is going to have to be strong, be resilient, be mindful of where he was, where he is and where he has to go in life," Jones said.