NEWARK, N.J. (AP) - The former chairman of the agency that controls New York City-area airports conspired with a United Airlines lobbyist to get the airline to run direct flights to SC so that the executive could more easily visit his vacation home, prosecutors said Thursday.
Samson, a former New Jersey attorney general is a longtime close advisor to Christie and served as chairman of the Governor's transition team. Samson is now scheduled to be sentenced on October 20. Under terms of his plea agreement, he faces as little as two years of probation and as much as two years in prison.
As reported by the New York Times, nj.com, and other media, Samson, 76, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Jose L. Linares in federal district court to one charge of bribery for accepting a benefit of more than $5,000 from United Airlines.
When Samson was chairman, United resumed direct flights to the SC airport. The "Chairman's Flight" came to light in the federal investigation of the George Washington Bridge closures known as BridgeGate. According to reports, all three were present at September 2011 dinner when Samson requested the route.
"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", the U.S. Attorney's office said in a release. United halted the flight three days after Samson, who was appointed by Christie, resigned from the agency in March 2014.
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The Port Authority also wanted to increase flights to Atlantic City, while New Jersey struggled to revitalize the struggling seaside gambling resort.
Oscar Munoz, a former railroad executive, who was chosen to succeed Smisek, said United would try to earn and keep the trust of workers, customers, shareholders and communities.
United's then-CEO, Jeff Smisek, and two other executives left the airline a year ago after United conducted its own investigation.
Samson wasn't charged in the bridge investigation, in which the Christie allies were accused of closing lanes leading to the bridge to exact revenge against a politician. They failed to get flight fees lowered, but the PATH extension to Newark was included in the agency's capital plan. Samson resigned from his post at Port Authority after prosecutors began investigating him for his alleged role in Bridgegate, and the focus on him intensified after a leaked email was brought to light. "Following today's plea, we will continue to move forward with the reforms that have been adopted and embraced by all members of the Port Authority and its leadership".
In April 2014, Wolff & Samson, the well-known law firm that Samson co-founded, took the unusual step of removing Samson's name from its front door, rebranding itself Chiesa Shahinian & Giantomasi PC.
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