Court Also Fines Him $100,000, Orders Four Years’ Probation
NEWARK, N.J. – David Samson, the former chairman of the Board of Commissioners of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, was sentenced today to 12 months of home confinement and four years of probation for using his official authority to pressure the parent company of United Airlines Inc. to institute a non-stop flight from Newark to South Carolina for his personal benefit, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman, Inspector General Michael Nestor of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, Office of Inspector General, and Special Agent in Charge Timothy Gallagher of the FBI’s Newark Division, announced.
Samson, 77, of Aiken, South Carolina, who served as New Jersey Attorney General from 2002 to 2003 and was the founding member and chairman of the law firm Wolff & Samson PC, previously pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Jose L. Linares in Newark federal court to an information charging him with one count of bribery. Judge Linares imposed the sentence today in Newark federal court.
“We believe that Mr. Samson’s crime, which involved a substantial violation of trust by a high-ranking public official, warranted a significant term of incarceration,” U.S. Attorney Fishman said. “Obviously we’re disappointed in the sentence, but we respect the court’s decision.”
“The investigation, prosecution, and sentencing of David Samson demonstrates that no individual is above the law, and that no government employee may use their official position for personal gain,” Inspector General Nestor said. “The Port Authority Office of Inspector General will continue to fulfill its mission of rooting out corruption, no matter what level it may exist within the Port Authority. We commend our law enforcement partners for their cooperative effort and tireless work.”
“The FBI’s stance on public corruption is that of zero tolerance and therefore one of our highest priorities,” Special Agent in Charge Gallagher said. “We in the FBI believe that public corruption is among the most serious of criminal violations. It is a betrayal of the public’s sacred trust. If allowed to grow, public corruption permeates all aspects of society and affects all other criminal priorities. And if allowed to spread unchecked, public corruption can threaten the very foundation of democracy. These charges reflect the FBI’s commitment to fighting public corruption and we will continue to aggressively pursue those that participate in these types of crimes.”
According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:
The Port Authority operates Newark Liberty International Airport, one of United’s largest hubs. In September 2011, several months after Samson became the chairman of the Port Authority, he and Jamie Fox, who at the time was a paid consultant and lobbyist for United Continental Holdings Inc. (United), the Chicago-based parent company of United Airlines Inc., met with representatives of United for dinner at a restaurant in New York. (Fox, who was the commissioner of the N.J. Department of Transportation from September 2014 to October 2015 and who was charged separately with conspiring with Samson to commit bribery, died Feb. 20, 2017.)
During that dinner and following a discussion of certain of United’s priorities for Newark Airport, Samson told the United representatives that Continental Airlines Inc., a predecessor of United, used to have non-stop flight route between Newark Airport and Columbia Airport, and that the route had made his travel from New Jersey to his home in South Carolina more convenient. A United representative responded that United generally stopped flying routes because they were not profitable, but told Samson that United would look into reinstating the Newark/Columbia route.
Subsequent to this dinner and additional inquiries from Fox on Samson’s behalf, United concluded that reinstating the Newark/Columbia route would not be profitable and communicated United’s lack of interest to Fox. Samson and Fox used Samson’s official position and authority as chairman of the Port Authority’s Board of Commissioners – which included control over the board’s agenda – to pressure United to reinstate the Newark/Columbia route. In November 2011, Samson and Fox were aware that an agreement between United and the Port Authority relating to United’s construction of a wide-body maintenance hangar at Newark Airport was to be presented to the Port Authority Board for its consideration at its Nov. 5, 2011, meeting. In an email exchange between Samson and Fox on Nov. 2, 2011, Samson and Fox discussed using Samson’s official authority to remove from the agenda the hangar agreement for the purpose of pressuring United to reinstate the Newark/Columbia route. Samson wrote Fox that he was “reviewing current Board agenda items of interest.” Referring to the hangar agreement, Fox suggested to Samson that “[m]aybe it needs further review!!!!!,” to which Samson responded “[y]es, it’s already off this month’s agenda: I hate myself.” Following through on this exchange with Fox, Samson caused the hangar agreement to be removed from the Port Authority Board’s agenda.
In advance of the board’s next meeting on Dec. 8, 2011, Samson and Fox continued to use Samson’s official authority to pressure United. On multiple occasions, Fox communicated to United that its failure to reinstate the route had made Samson angry and was having a negative impact on United’s relationship with the Port Authority. Samson and Fox also discussed further using Samson’s official authority over the board’s agenda to pressure United. On Dec. 7, 2011, the day before the Port Authority Board’s meeting, Samson sent Fox an email telling him that Samson had given instructions to remove the hangar agreement from the agenda. Fox responded that he thought it was a good time to put the agreement back on the agenda and Samson agreed to do so. The Port Authority Board then considered the hangar agreement on Dec. 8, 2011, and approved it. Fox later emailed Samson: “Finally have their [United’s] attention. Having item off/on this week worked,” referring to the hangar agreement.
As a result of the repeated use of Samson’s official authority to pressure United by Samson and Fox, United decided to reinstate the Newark/Columbia route. Based on Samson’s preferred travel schedule to South Carolina, which Fox communicated to United, the airline implemented a weekly schedule that only included flights from Newark Airport to Columbia Airport departing at 6:00 p.m. on Thursdays (with a returning flight the same night) and from Columbia Airport to Newark Airport departing at 6:20 a.m. on Mondays (after a flight to Columbia Airport the evening before). United began flying the Newark/Columbia route in September 2012 and operated the route until March 2014. Samson used the Newark/Columbia route on 27 occasions between October 2012 and January 2014. Samson and others referred to the Newark/Columbia route as the “Chairman’s Flight” and Fox referred to it as “Samson Air.” In addition to home confinement and probation, Judge Linares sentenced Samson to 3,600 hours of community service and fined him $100,000.
U.S. Attorney Fishman credited criminal investigators of the Port Authority, Office of Inspector General, under the direction of Inspector General Nestor; special agents of the FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Gallagher; and criminal investigators of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, for the investigation leading to today’s sentencing.
The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Vikas Khanna and Lee M. Cortes Jr. and Senior Litigation Counsel J Fortier Imbert of the U.S. Attorney’s Office Special Prosecutions Division and Assistant U.S. Attorney David Feder of the criminal division.
Defense counsel: Michael Chertoff Esq., Washington, D.C., & Justin Walder Esq., Hackensack, New Jersey