New Jersey 'Bridgegate' figure to plead guilty to federal charge

Walder left and his client David Samson former Port Authority Director and a political mentor to Republican Gov. Chris Christie arrive at the Federal Courthouse in Newark N.J. Thursday

New Jersey 'Bridgegate' figure to plead guilty to federal charge

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) - A growing list of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's allies have pleaded guilty or have been charged in schemes involving their relationships at the powerful agency that runs airports, bridges and tunnels in NY and New Jersey, though Christie, a close ally of presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald, faces no accusations of wrongdoing.

The U.S. attorney's office in New Jersey has been investigating whether David Samson, a political mentor to Republican Gov. Chris Christie, wrongfully used his Port Authority of NY and New Jersey post to get United Airlines to provide direct air service to SC in 2014 to make it easier to get to his vacation home.

One of the governor's closest political allies, David Samson, pleaded guilty Thursday to accepting a bribe from United Airlines, and Christie's onetime transportation commissioner, Jamie Fox, was charged with conspiring to commit bribery for his suspected role in the same scheme when he was a United lobbyist.

Fox's attorney, Michael Critchley, said his client has served the public and his clients with honor and believed any arrangement between Samson and United managers had been vetted and was appropriate.

Besides agreeing to the $2.25 million penalty, United also committed to report to the USAO during a two-year period on its compliance efforts, and has implemented a series of measures to prevent and detect bribery.

Samson wasn't charged in the bridge investigation, in which the Christie allies were accused of causing traffic problems to exact revenge against a politician.

A spokesman for Paul Fishman, U.S. Attorney for New Jersey, declined to comment to Reuters on the case, saying no court documents had yet been filed.

Several United executives from out of state, including the three who resigned in the wake of the airline's internal investigation, donated to Christie's 2013 re-election campaign.

As governor, Christie conferred with Samson on a wide range of legal, political and transportation issues, and Samson's law firm reaped a wide assortment of lucrative legal and consulting contracts from state agencies and authorities.

While cleared in the bridge investigation, investigators began looking into Port Authority and asking questions about Samson's interactions with United Airlines.

The airline then agreed to restore a money-losing route convenient to Samson's weekend home in SC, according to documents filed in federal court in Newark.

His attorney wasn't immediately available for comment.

Samson faces as long as two years in prison. Samson flew that route 27 times between October 2012 and January 2014, Samson told the judge on Thursday. When airline representatives concluded the flight would lose money, Samson removed the hangar proposal from the board's agenda.

During questioning by the judge, Samson admitted that as chairman he had authority over the agency's agenda and used this power to pressure United to reinstate a SC flight that had previously been operated by Continental Airlines before it was merged with United. 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.

At the time the route operated, United Airlines was lobbying for improvements at Newark Liberty International Airport, which the Port Authority owns. New Jersey officials were charged with shutting down lanes of the George Washington Bridge, controlled by the Port Authority, backing up traffic in Fort Lee, N.J.

"The Port Authority has and will continue to be fully cooperative in all matters under investigation".

In particular, prosecutors were interested in the money-losing, non-stop United Airlines route between Newark and Columbia, S.C., close to Samson's weekend home.

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