Former Port Authority Chairman Seeks to Avoid Prison in Bribery Case

NEWARK — A former top transportation official and mentor to Republican Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey should receive probation, not prison, for his part in a bribery scheme involving United Airlines because although he misused his position, he was “not corrupted,” his lawyers said in a court filing.

The request was contained in a 252-page brief filed late Tuesday on behalf of David Samson, the former chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. He is scheduled to be sentenced March 6.

Mr. Samson, 77, is a former New Jersey attorney general who led Mr. Christie’s transition team in 2010 and was rewarded with an appointment as Port Authority chairman in 2011.

He pleaded guilty last year to pressuring United to restart a money-losing flight to South Carolina, near his second home. It was derisively called “The Chairman’s Flight.”

Mr. Samson’s plea agreement calls for a maximum sentence of two years, with the possibility of probation, according to the filing.

United was in lease talks at the time with Newark Liberty International Airport, which the Port Authority operates. The airline discontinued the flight shortly after Mr. Samson resigned in 2014.

Jeff Smisek, chief executive of United at the time, and two other high-ranking United officials were forced out in September 2015 after the airline investigated their dealings with Mr. Samson. United was fined more than $2 million by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

In Tuesday’s filing, which contains letters of support from several former state attorneys general and a former Democratic governor, James E. McGreevey, Mr. Samson’s lawyers said that he had expressed remorse and that his actions did not financially harm the public.

“There is no dispute that on a number of other much larger United-related matters that came before the Port Authority Board while David was chairman, he did not provide United with what it wanted,” they wrote. “David unquestionably misused his position in this isolated incident, but he was not corrupted.”

Mr. Samson is in poor health, according to the filing, and one of his doctors has told probation officials that he is “very likely in the last few years of his life.”

The revelations about the United scheme surfaced when the Port Authority, which operates airports, ports, bridges and tunnels in New York and New Jersey, was embroiled in a political scandal involving traffic jams at the George Washington Bridge. That ultimately led to the federal convictions of two former agency officials and a former aide to Mr. Christie.

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