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Christie confidant seeks probation in United Airlines bribery case

David Samson, the disgraced former chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey who was convicted of a federal bribery charge, is asking a judge for a sentence of probation and community service.

David Samson, the disgraced former chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey who was convicted of a federal bribery charge, is asking a judge for a sentence of probation and community service.

Under a plea agreement reached with the office of U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, Samson, a former New Jersey attorney general, would face up to two years in prison, though the judge is not bound by that deal. He is to be sentenced  Monday.

Samson, 77, admitted in July to participating in a scheme to demand that the largest airline at Newark Liberty International Airport, which is controlled by the Port Authority, reinstate a flight to an airport in South Carolina near his vacation home in Aiken.

In 2011, Samson, a close friend and appointee of Gov. Christie, used the flight as leverage in negotiations with United Airlines over its pursuit of a new hangar at Newark, according to prosecutors.

Samson's lawyers argued in a court filing Tuesday that his crime was an isolated incident in his "accomplished and exemplary life," and noted that he had taken responsibility for his wrongdoing.

He is also in a "state of declining physical and mental health," the attorneys wrote, citing a letter from Samson's doctor that said incarceration would likely "result in progressive worsening of his already bleak medical and psychiatric condition."

Family members and nearly four dozen friends, including former state attorneys general and former Gov. Jim McGreevey, wrote to U.S. District Judge Jose L. Linares attesting to Samson's character.

The sentencing memorandum submitted to the court by prosecutors is not yet public.

Samson's attorneys argued that he wasn't "corrupted" by what Samson himself dubbed the "Chairman's Flight."

For example, Samson paid for all 27 of the flights he took on the route between October 2012 and January 2014, which were also available to the public, according to the court filing.

Previously, Samson would fly from Newark to Charlotte, N.C., and then drive to his home in Aiken. The route to Columbia Metropolitan Airport reduced his commute by more than an hour.

"That he was not motivated by profit, but rather by convenience, does not excuse his conduct, but it helps explain why this case is so different than any other public corruption case — David never sought a financial gain from his office and never offered to trade his judgment for personal benefit," attorneys Michael Chertoff and Justin P. Walder wrote in the court filing.

Therefore, the attorneys wrote, the judge should not look to other corruption cases for precedent in determining Samson's sentence.

What's more, they said, Samson aggressively pursued the Port Authority's and New Jersey's interests in separate subsequent negotiations with United in matters of far greater importance to the airline than the hangar issue.

"Had the flight affected David's judgment … one would expect to see at least one example where David acted to advance United's interests before" the Port Authority's Board of Commissioners. "No example exists."

Samson also had been told by Jamie Fox, a friend and United lobbyist, that "airlines often provided travel accommodations to public officials," Samson's attorneys wrote. Therefore, he did not think his request was unreasonable.

Fox, 62, of Lambertville, N.J., was charged with conspiracy to commit bribery. Fox, who denied wrongdoing, died last week of heart failure.

Samson already works with Goodwill Industries of Aiken and its parent organization, his attorneys said, helping a community resource center, among other things.

Probation with the condition of additional community service at these organizations "could well serve the needs of justice very effectively in this case," Chertoff and Walder wrote.

Among those asking the judge for a lenient sentence was McGreevey, a Democrat who appointed Samson as attorney general.

McGreevey was governor from 2002 to 2004, when he resigned amid an extramarital affair and patronage scandal.

"As someone who has wrestled with my own defects of character," McGreevey wrote the judge, "I would beseech the court to permit David to know his better angels through service to 'the least of these.' "