Former Port Authority chairman seeks probation in United bribe scheme
NEWARK — A former top transportation official and mentor to Republican Gov. Chris Christie should receive probation, not prison, for his part in a bribery scheme involving United Airlines because although he misused his position, he was "not corrupted," his attorneys said in a court filing.
The request was contained in a 252-page brief filed late Tuesday on behalf of David Samson, the former chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. He is scheduled to be sentenced March 6.
The 77-year-old Samson is a former New Jersey attorney general who headed Christie's transition team in 2010 and later was rewarded with an appointment as Port Authority chairman the following year.
He pleaded guilty last year to pressuring United to restart a money-losing flight to South Carolina, near where he has a second home. The flight was derisively dubbed "The Chairman's Flight."
Samson's plea agreement calls for a sentence of up to two years, with the possibility of probation, according to Tuesday's filing.
United was in lease negotiations at the time with Newark Liberty International Airport, which is operated by the Port Authority. The airline discontinued the flight shortly after Samson resigned in 2014.
United's then-CEO, Jeff Smisek, and two other high-ranking United officials were forced out in September 2015 after the airline investigated the executives' dealings with Samson. The airline was fined more than $2 million by the Securities and Exchange Commission.
In Tuesday's court filing, which contains letters of support from several former state attorneys general and former Democratic Gov. Jim McGreevey, Samson's attorneys said that he has expressed remorse and that his actions didn't financially harm the public.
"There is no dispute that on a number of other much larger United-related matters that came before the Port Authority Board while David was Chairman, he did not provide United with what it wanted," they wrote. "David unquestionably misused his position in this isolated incident, but he was not corrupted."
Samson also is in poor health, according to the filing, and one of his doctors has told probation officials that he is "very likely in the last few years of his life."
The revelations about the United scheme surfaced when the Port Authority, which operates airports, ports, bridges and tunnels in the New York area, was embroiled in a political scandal involving traffic jams at the George Washington Bridge. That ultimately led to the federal convictions of two former agency officials and a former Christie staffer.
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