David Samson, a Christie Ally, Is Sentenced to Home Confinement

David Samson, a former attorney general of New Jersey and a longtime friend of Gov. Chris Christie, avoided being sentenced to prison time on Monday despite having pleaded guilty to pressuring executives of United Airlines into operating a weekly flight to South Carolina for his personal convenience. Instead, he was ordered to serve one year of home confinement and pay a fine of $100,000.

Mr. Samson, 77, admitted in federal court in July that he had used his power as chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to coerce United into running the route even though it was not profitable. He had threatened to block the construction of a hangar that United needed at Newark Liberty International Airport unless the airline provided the service. The route ended in Columbia, near a country estate that is now Mr. Samson’s principal residence, according to prosecutors.

Mr. Samson was one of four allies of Mr. Christie to be convicted or to plead guilty to charges that arose from investigations into the closing of access lanes to the George Washington Bridge in 2013.

Another of Mr. Christie’s appointees to the Port Authority, Bill Baroni, and one of the governor’s aides, Bridget Anne Kelly, were convicted last year for their roles in the lane closings. They are scheduled to be sentenced next week. Mr. Baroni’s top deputy at the agency, David Wildstein, pleaded guilty to running the scheme.

Judge Jose L. Linares of Federal District Court in Newark also ordered Mr. Samson to serve four years of probation as part of a sentence that left prosecutors visibly disappointed. Paul J. Fishman, the United States attorney for New Jersey, said the judge had given Mr. Samson a lot of credit for a distinguished career and for his kindness and generosity to others over the years.

Mr. Samson faced a maximum term of two years in prison, but his lawyers argued that he should be spared that sentence because he was in poor physical and mental shape. They produced testimonials from dozens of friends and family members who attested to Mr. Samson’s good character.

Outside the courthouse, Mr. Samson declined to respond to reporters’ questions as his lawyers led him to a black Ford Explorer idling at the curb. One of his lawyers, Justin Walder, handed out a statement that said Mr. Samson had “made an aberrational error in judgment” and called the sentence “fair and just.”

Mr. Christie, in a statement, said: “This is a sad day for David and his family and friends. The court has ruled, and this chapter is now behind us. David will now pay the price for his bad judgment.”

But Mr. Fishman said he worried the sentence would not serve as enough of a deterrent and would signal that public officials can engage in corruption without fear of significant punishment. “It’s certainly a less severe punishment than we thought appropriate,” Mr. Fishman told reporters outside the courthouse.

He said Mr. Samson had extorted United to get the airline to schedule flights that perfectly suited him — from Newark to Columbia at the end of the week and back to Newark after the weekend. “This was an extraordinary demand of United,” Mr. Fishman said. Mr. Samson even referred to the route as “the chairman’s flight,” prosecutors contend.

Mr. Fishman added that he saw a certain irony in the fact that Mr. Samson’s motive had been to maximize the amount of time he could spend at his weekend home and that now “he’s been sentenced to spend all of his time in that house.”

The sentencing completed a long fall for Mr. Samson after many years of wielding influence in New Jersey. A founding partner of one of the state’s most powerful law firms — then known as Wolff & Samson and now as Chiesa, Shahinian & Giantomasi — he had served as attorney general under Gov. Jim McGreevey, a Democrat, and as a mentor to Mr. Christie, a Republican.

Mr. Christie appointed him in 2010 to be chairman of the Port Authority, which operates the three major airports in the New York metropolitan area, as well as the bridges and tunnels that link New Jersey and New York City. He resigned from that position in 2014. Three days later, United stopped operating the flights between Newark and Columbia.

In 2015, after Mr. Fishman’s office began investigating the flights, three senior United officials resigned, including the chief executive, Jeff Smisek. Mr. Fishman’s office praised United for its handling of the matter and agreed not to prosecute the company or Mr. Smisek.

Another appointee of Mr. Christie, Jamie Fox, was also tangled in the chairman’s flight web. Mr. Fox served as Mr. Christie’s commissioner of transportation after consulting with United when Mr. Samson was pressing his demand. Mr. Fox was charged with conspiracy to commit bribery for his role in the scheme, a charge that was pending when he died last month at 62.

Mr. Christie was at a memorial service for Mr. Fox while Mr. Samson was being sentenced on Monday.

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