Crime and Courts
Chief investigative reporter Jonathan Dienst on crime, corruption and terrorism.

Ex-Port Authority Chair Pleads Guilty in United Airlines Probe

What to Know

  • David Samson pleaded guilty to a single conspiracy-related count.
  • The former Port Authority chairman and Christie ally was being investigated for his role in flights out of Newark.
  • Samson resigned from the Port Authority in 2014, several months after the scandal around lane closings at the George Washington Bridge.

The former Port Authority chairman and Gov. Christie ally who resigned amid an investigation into the George Washington Bridge lane-closing scandal pleaded guilty in a separate investigation involving an airline route out of Newark Airport, officials said Thursday. 

David Samson pleaded guilty to a single bribery-related count for his role in having United Airlines reinstate flights between Newark and Columbia, South Carolina, between 2012 and 2014. He faces two years probation for the crime.

Jamie Fox, the former head of the New Jersey Department of Transportation and a onetime lobbyist for United Airlines, was also charged with conspiracy to commit bribery. Authorities said that he worked with Samson to get the route that had been canceled in 2009 reinstated.

Port Authority Special Inspector Michael Nestor called the case "another example of a public official gone astray."

Samson admitted to taking a proposal for a new hangar for United off of a Port Authority agenda in 2011 after learning the airline wasn't going to reinstate the flights to the South Carolina capital about 50 miles northeast of Samson's vacation home in Aiken, a small town near the Georgia border popular with horse lovers and golfers hoping to play at Augusta National and other courses in the area.  

He also admitted to taking 27 flights between Newark and Columbia after United added the flight, which he called the "chairman's flight." 

The twice-weekly direct flight was canceled days after he resigned last year.

After the hearing, an attorney for Samson said, "It's a sad day." 

Fox's attorney, Michael Critchley, said his client "unfortunately has found himself caught in the middle of an arrangement that he believed was reviewed and approved by the necessary business and legal professionals." 

Fox "will not allow this unfair stain to be the last word on his distinguished career," Critchley said in the statement. 

U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman said that the case "breeds more life into the view that all public officials are corrupt."

United Airlines employees won't face charges in the case, but the company will have to pay a financial penalty of $2.25 million and step up compliance on its anti-bribery and anti-corruption policies. 

Oscar Munoz, president and CEO of United, said in a statement, "We will continue to act with the utmost integrity in everything we do, ensuring that we are always conducting business ethically and with the best interests of all of our stakeholders in mind."

Samson was Port Authority chairman during the 2013 George Washington Bridge lane-closing scandal that led to criminal charges against three other Christie allies, including the governor's deputy chief of staff.

Christie appointed Samson, a former state attorney general, to the Port Authority chairman's post in 2011 after he led the governor's transition team in 2009.

Samson wasn't charged in the bridge investigation. 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 resigned from the Port Authority in March 2014, a day after a law firm's taxpayer-funded report cleared Christie of wrongdoing and laid much of the blame for the lane closures on the Christie aide. Samson was among several key figures in the drama who weren't interviewed for the report.

The bridge investigation, combined with an earlier audit that called the Port Authority "challenged and dysfunctional," trained a spotlight on the powerful agency and eventually led to questions about Samson's interactions with United Airlines.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
Contact Us