A former North Carolina official is going to prison for taking a bribe to help an ethanol company get a permit more quickly.

A U.S. District Court judge this week sentenced Boyce Allen Hudson, who worked for the state’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources, to 40 months in federal prison.

In 2004, Hudson admittedly agreed to help Agri-Ethanol Products secure a state air-quality permit for a proposed refinery within 90 days in exchange for $100,000 in cash and another $100,000 through a consulting contract.

Although Hudson didn’t have the authority to issue the permit, he used his influence to get another state official to expedite the permit process. The ethanol company received the permit in 29 days.

Hudson only received $20,000 from his deal with the company, of which $15,000 actually came from an undercover federal agent.

In addition to the prison time, Hudson must pay back the $15,000, plus a $35,000 fine.

Hudson’s case is a cautionary tale for the ethanol industry. Many startup ethanol makers have complained about the difficulty of getting the permits and funding necessary to build new plants. Several have had to delay or cancel projects all together as a result (see Poet Cancels Ethanol Plant, Plans for Two Cellulosic-Ethanol Plants Scrapped and Mascoma to Play Smaller Role in Pilot Project).

Agri-Ethanol, based in Raleigh, raised enough money to build the $220 million plant in Aurora for which it received the permit. The company dropped the project in March. Agri-Ethanol’s Website also is down.

Federal prosecutors said two Agri-Ethanol investors, Ricky Wright and Barry Lee Green, contacted Hudson in mid-2004 to talk about securing the permit. Hudson then met with the company’s chief executive, David Brady, and agreed to help the company fast-track the air-permitting process.

Hudson paid a visit to state official and claimed that the process should be shortened for Agri-Ethanol because lawmakers favored the project.

Investigators heard about the bribery scheme when some of Agri-Ethanol’s executives bragged about it. An investigator then posed as an investor and handed over $15,000.

Hudson pleaded guilty in May to charges of extortion and money laundering.

During the investigation, Hudson cooperated, allowing his phone calls to be monitored and agreeing to wear a wire. But no charges have been filed against anyone at Agri-Ethanol.