Former Port Authority of New York and New Jersey chairman David Samson arrives for his sentencing at federal court, Monday, March 6, 2017, in Newark, N.J. He pleaded guilty last summer to bribery for pressuring United Airlines to resurrect a flight from Newark to South Carolina, where he has a weekend home. The airline was in negotiations with the Port Authority at the time. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Christie mentor set for sentencing in United bribery case

March 06, 2017 - 12:58 pm

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — A former New Jersey attorney general and mentor to Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is scheduled to be sentenced in federal court.

David Samson pleaded guilty last summer to bribery for using his position as chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey in 2012 to pressure United Airlines to revive a money-losing flight from Newark to South Carolina. Samson wanted the flight so he could have easier access to a weekend home.

The 77-year-old Samson faces up to two years in prison, though his plea agreement allows for the possibility of probation. He is in court Monday.

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WHAT HE DID

Samson admitted that he used his position as chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey in 2012 to pressure United Airlines to revive a money-losing flight from Newark to Columbia, South Carolina, so he could have easier access to a weekend home in Aiken — which saved him an hour's driving time.

United discontinued the flight shortly after Samson resigned in early 2014.

The backroom deal was struck as United was in negotiations with the Port Authority over a hangar lease at Newark Liberty International Airport, according to prosecutors.

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WHAT SAMSON WANTS

His attorneys, who include former U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, filed a brief last week pleading for leniency, writing that Samson's actions were "an aberration in an otherwise unblemished and extraordinary career." They added he is in poor health and is "very likely in the last few years of his life."

It is an ignominious ending for one of New Jersey's powerful political players, who headed Christie's transition team and was rewarded with the Port Authority chairmanship in 2011. The Port Authority oversees billions of dollars in assets and operates New York-area bridges, tunnels, ports and airports.

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WHAT PROSECUTORS WANT

Prosecutors wrote in a response brief that Samson should serve the full 24 months.

They wrote that Samson "abused his power in a stunning and audacious manner" and that "there are few instances in which public officials have had the moxie to demand something so grand," referring to the flight.

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BRIDGEGATE CONNECTION

During the George Washington Bridge lane-closing trial last fall, admitted mastermind David Wildstein testified Samson knew about the plot beforehand. During the four days of gridlock in September 2013, Wildstein appeared to imply Samson was involved when he texted that Samson was "helping us to retaliate" after Port Authority Executive Director Pat Foye put a stop to the lane realignment.

Convicted Port Authority official Bill Baroni testified Samson told him to "punch Pat Foye in the face" over the dispute.

Samson wasn't charged in the bridge scandal, nor was he charged after a federal probe into potential conflicts involving his law firm while he was Port Authority chairman.

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THE OTHER PLAYERS

—United Airlines was fined more than $2 million, and 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.

—Jamie Fox, a longtime state official and the United lobbyist who was accused of conspiracy to commit bribery in the scheme, died last month at age 62. He had pleaded not guilty.

Around the same time Samson is being sentenced in Newark, a memorial will be held for Fox in Hamilton. Christie plans to attend.

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