Confidant of Governor Chris Christie to be sentenced in airline scheme
A former confidant of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie will be sentenced on Monday for pressuring United Airlines into operating a flight to an airport near his vacation home, a case that grew out of the “Bridgegate” investigation.
David Samson, 77, a former chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, faces as much as two years in prison on charges that he used his position to coerce United to reverse its cancellation of a route between Newark, New Jersey, and Columbia, South Carolina. He entered a guilty plea in federal court in Newark last year.
The route, which Samson privately referred to as the “chairman’s flight,” made it easier for him to get to a summer home he owned in South Carolina, according to prosecutors.
The case emerged from the investigation into the shutdown of access lanes at the George Washington Bridge in September 2013, a scandal that became known as Bridgegate. Fallout from the case rocked Christie’s administration and damaged the Republican governor’s once-promising political career.
Two former Christie aides were convicted of orchestrating the closures to create massive traffic jams as political pay back for a local mayor who declined to endorse the governor’s 2013 reelection bid.
Christie, who has not been charged, has denied any knowledge of the Bridgegate scheme, but the aides testified that he was aware of the lane closures at the time they occurred.
Samson, a former state attorney general, was not charged in the Bridgegate case, though his name came up at trial as one of several officials who appeared to be aware of the lane closure plot as it unfolded.
The bi-state agency that Samson led is the operator of the bridge, one of the world’s busiest, which spans the Hudson River between Manhattan and Fort Lee, New Jersey.
In the airline case, Samson was accused of threatening to block United’s plans for a new hangar at Newark Liberty International Airport, which is overseen by the Port Authority, unless United began flying to Columbia again.
United agreed to pay more than $4.6 million to settle criminal and civil investigations without admitting wrongdoing. The scandal led to the resignation of United Continental Holdings Inc Chief Executive Jeff Smisek and two other senior executives.
A consultant who was facing charges in the scheme for allegedly acting as a middleman, former state transportation commissioner Jamie Fox, died in February.
(Editing by Frank McGurty and Phil Berlowitz)