WASHINGTON - The Southern Union Co, which once owned the New England Gas Company, was sentenced on Friday to pay a $6 million criminal fine and $12 million to community initiatives for illegally storing mercury at a Rhode Island site, the U.S. Justice Department said.

It said the sentence was handed down by a federal judge in Providence, Rhode Island. In October last year, a jury found the company guilty of illegally storing the mercury for several years.

The Justice Department said judge also put the company on two years of probation. The judge stayed the criminal fine and the $12 million in payments to community initiatives while the company appeals the conviction. (Reporting by James Vicini, Editing by Leslie Gevirtz)