Under investigation for the Bridgegate scandal involving several associates of Gov. Chris Christie, the former New Jersey Attorney General and Port Authority Chairman pleaded guilty Thursday to bribery after abusing his official position to shakedown a major airline. A former New Jersey Department of Transportation (DOT) Commissioner was recently charged with conspiring to commit the bribe after federal prosecutors discovered emails discussing details of the scheme with his corrupt boss.
“This kind of case shakes public confidence in our institutions of government when people who are so accomplished, and who have occupied so many positions of public trust, misuse their authority to get something for themselves,” stated U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman. “It’s a betrayal of our trust and what we have the right to expect from those in public life and it makes the job of every honest public employee just that much harder.”
After serving as New Jersey Attorney General from 2002 to 2003, David Samson became the chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey in 2011. Appointed by Gov. Christie, Samson almost immediately began abusing his position by threatening to withhold airport contracts to a major airline unless the parent corporation issued him a specific bribe.
Several months after becoming the chairman of the Port Authority, Samson met with representatives from United Continental Holdings Inc., the parent company of United Airlines Inc., at a New York restaurant in September 2011. Although Samson attempted to persuade United into opening a non-stop flight route between Newark Airport and Columbia Airport in order to make his trip from New Jersey to his home in South Carolina more convenient, the representatives from United informed the chairman that the route was not profitable enough to establish.
Present at that dinner was a lobbyist for United and a paid consultant for Samson named Jamie Fox. Later serving as commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Transportation from September 2014 to October 2015, Fox allegedly engaged in a series of emails with Samson plotting a scheme to block United’s airport contracts until the company agreed to set up a route from Newark to Columbia.
In November 2011, email exchanges between Samson and Fox revealed their intentions to prevent United from constructing a maintenance hangar at Newark Airport by removing the agreement from the Port Authority Board’s agenda. After Samson and Fox finally agreed to put the hangar agreement back on the agenda, United conceded to their terms and established the route specifically for Samson.
Between September 2012 and March 2014, Samson flew that route at least 27 times until Gov. Christie announced his resignation effective immediately on March 28, 2014. According to court documents, Samson and others repeatedly referred to the Newark/Columbia route as the “Chairman’s Flight” while Fox referred to it as “Samson Air.”
Due to the fact that United agreed to pay the bribe and failed to notify law enforcement of Samson’s illicit actions, the corporation has been ordered to pay a $2.25 million penalty. United has also agreed to cooperate with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and to institute substantial reforms to its compliance program.
After pleading guilty to bribery on Thursday, Samson currently faces up to 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000 or twice the gross gain or loss from the offense. According to the terms of Samson’s plea bargain, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has agreed to a maximum sentence of 24 months in prison.
Charged with conspiring to commit bribery, Fox could face up to five years in prison and a fine of $250,000 or twice the gross gain or loss from the offense.