A former top executive at Boeing Corp. (BA) was sentenced to four months in prison Friday 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 (search) pleaded guilty in November to a single count of aiding and abetting illegal employment negotiations. Specifically, Sears negotiated to hire Darleen Druyun (search) 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 (search) and U.S. citizens for his actions.

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

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.