A former transportation official and mentor to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie “should not get a get-out-of-jail card” for using his position to shake down United Airlines to relaunch a flight to his weekend home, federal prosecutors argue in a court filing.
They recommend in the filing Thursday that former Port Authority of New York and New Jersey chairman David Samson serve 24 months in prison for pressuring the airline to restart a money-losing flight to South Carolina, near his weekend home. The flight was derisively dubbed “The Chairman’s Flight.”
Samson’s lawyers wrote earlier in the week that the 77-year-old is in poor health and that even though he misused his position, he was “not corrupted” and didn’t financially harm the Port Authority or the public with his actions. They’re seeking probation and community service.
Sentencing is scheduled for Monday.
Government prosecutors wrote that Samson “abused his power in a stunning and audacious manner” and that “there are few instances in which public officials have had the moxie to demand something so grand,” referring to the flight.
Samson is a former New Jersey attorney general who headed Christie’s transition team after Christie’s election in 2009. His law firm, the former Wolff & Samson, is considered among the most prominent in the state.
At the time the backroom deal for the flight was struck, United was in negotiations for a hangar project at Newark Liberty International Airport, which is operated by the Port Authority. Samson admitted delaying a vote on the project as a way of getting the airline to relaunch the flight so he could travel to his weekend home. He pleaded guilty in July to a bribery charge.
The airline discontinued the flight after Samson resigned in early 2014.
The airline was fined more than $2 million, and then-CEO Jeff Smisek and two other high-ranking United officials were forced out in September 2015 after the airline investigated the executives’ dealings with Samson.
Samson’s attorneys wrote in their filing this week that the damage to his reputation, and the fact that he has relinquished his license to practice law, favor a non-custodial sentence.
Prosecutors weren’t swayed.
“If Samson’s fall from grace resulted in a sentence of community service, then the message would be sent that the more fortunate — who have more to lose — should receive lighter sentences than those who have not been so privileged, talented, or lucky,” they wrote.