* Defendants sentenced to three- and four-year prison terms

* Three were charged as part of US probe of muni market

* Appeal likely, defendants say

By Basil Katz

NEW YORK, Oct 18 (Reuters) - Three former bankers at a unit of General Electric Co were each sentenced on Thursday to several years in prison for conspiring to rig bids to invest municipal bond proceeds.

The men were convicted in May as part of a broad investigation by the U.S. Justice Department of the $3.7 trillion U.S. municipal bond market. The probe has focused on rooting out schemes to fix prices and rig bids on bond transactions, and has ensnared some of the world's largest banks.

The government had accused the three GE Capital bankers of conspiring with brokers, between 1999 and 2006, to submit artificially low bids for municipal finance contracts. They were found guilty of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and to defraud the United States.

GE Capital is the financial services unit of Fairfield, Connecticut-based GE.

At Thursday's hearing, U.S. District Judge Harold Baer in Manhattan said "corruption and greed was certainly what this case was about."

Defendant Steven Goldberg was handed a four-year prison term, while Peter Grimm and Dominick Carollo were each sentenced to three years.

The sentences were significantly lower than what the government had requested. Prosecutors had proposed up to 17-1/2 years for Goldberg, and more than a decade for the two others.

The three defendants addressed the crowded courtroom in turn, each breaking into tears when asking the judge for leniency.

Lawyers for the three men indicated in court on Thursday that they would likely appeal the convictions.

Three former UBS AG executives were convicted on similar charges in August.

A total of 19 people have been convicted or have pleaded guilty to charges stemming from the bid-rigging investigation, the government said in August.

In July, former JPMorgan Chase & Co banker Alexander Wright pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud for manipulating the bidding process for a June 2002 contract.

Wright and former UBS employee Mark Zaino testified for the government at the trial of the former UBS executives. Zaino pleaded guilty in 2010 to bid-rigging charges.

The case is U.S. v. Dominick Carollo et al, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, No. 10-cr-654.

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