Published: Sun, July 17, 2016
Global Media | By Abel Hampton

United to pay $2.25M in Newark scandal

David Samson, 76, the former chairman of the Port Authority of NY and New Jersey, faces up to two years in prison under a plea agreement for using his position to pressure United into operating a flight between Newark, New Jersey, and Columbia, South Carolina, near where he owned a vacation home.

Prosecutors allege United made a decision to bring back the Newark to Columbia route - eventually dubbed the "chairman's flight" - as a result of that pressure in 2012, with service according to Samson's preferred schedule. In an email to an United executive after the dinner, Fox wrote that they "need to come up with some spin on the SC flight Samson asked about. he asked in jest - I think - that he hoped that I had good news on the flight", according to court documents.

While Christie hasn't been accused of wrongdoing, the criminal actions underscore an old-fashioned political lesson - choose your friends carefully - at a precarious moment for Christie's Republican Party as it prepares for its presidential nominating convention next week. Sentencing was set for October 20.

Christie's office did not respond to requests for comment by late afternoon Thursday. "But it's a sad day".

United executives subsequently told Samson that the route will not be profitable, but Samson used his official authority to pressure United to re-establish flights.

The case grew out of the probe into the shutdown of lanes on the George Washington Bridge in September 2013 that caused massive traffic delays.

A former New Jersey attorney general, Samson was a legal adviser to Christie's 2009 campaign for governor and led the transition committee after Christie was elected. That case is ongoing.

Prosecutors say Samson conspired with Fox, who was then a United Airlines lobbyist, to get the Chicago-based airline to provide direct air service to Columbia, South Carolina. The route operated at a time when United was in negotiations with the Port Authority over several key issues, including the airline's lease at Newark Liberty International Airport, a hub for United flights. He and Vice Chairman Scott Rechler, a NY appointee and head of RXR Realty, have pushed for greater transparency as the agency recovers from the Bridgegate scandal.

"As we move forward, continuing to earn and keep the trust of our employees, customers, shareholders, and the communities we serve around the world remains critical to our success", Oscar Munoz, who took over as CEO after Smisek's resignation, said in a statement. The bridge is run by the Port Authority.

Samson's guilty plea, in a case overseen by Fishman, a Democrat, emerges a day before Trump plans to name his running mate in NY. United began flying Newark to Columbia in September 2012 and stopped in March 2014, just days after Samson resigned.

Samson, who will turn 77 next month, pleaded guilty to one count of knowingly and corruptly soliciting and accepting a thing of value, specifically a non-stop flight to flight to SC, intending to be influenced or rewarded in his official position as chairman of the Port Authority of NY and New Jersey.

United Airlines has escaped prosecution by U.S. authorities following a corruption probe, and has agreed to pay a $2.25 million penalty.

United Airlines announced Thursday it would pay a $2.25 million fine, but avoid criminal prosecution, for a flight at the heart of a political scandal that cost the carrier's former CEO Jeff Smisek his job.

The airline eventually agreed to reinstate the flight, which Samson had dubbed "the chairman's flight", and he used it on 27 occasions between October 2012 and January 2014, he said.

Fishman said that Christie played no role in arranging Samson's flight. But an email from a Port Authority official to a Christie aide, both of whom were later charged, described Samson "helping to retaliate" after Port Authority executive director Patrick Foye ordered the lanes reopened.

Samson, who pleaded guilty today to bribery in the case, had faced a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000 or twice the gross gain or loss from the offense. "The governor is either a bad judge of character when it comes to making high level appointments or is not as forthcoming as he'd like us to believe".

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