David Samson, a former close adviser to Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, pleaded guilty today to a bribery charge stemming from the investigation of the massive New York-area traffic tie-up in 2013 known as Bridgegate.
Samson admitted that when he was chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, he took part in a conspiracy with United Airlines, which started up a flight from Newark Airport to Columbia, South Carolina, near his vacation home.
Port Authority insiders called it "the Chairman's flight," and it was often nearly empty. Samson was in a position to help United, which has the largest number of flights in and out of Newark's Liberty Airport, a facility run by the Port Authority.
He admitted using the flight 27 times and said he pressured United to reinstate it by removing an item from a Port Authority agenda about a hangar that United wanted at the Newark airport.
Prosecutors said United operated the flight only because Samson wanted it for traveling to his home. A few days after he resigned, United canceled the flight.
As a result of the investigation, United's CEO, Jeff Smisek, abruptly resigned last September. United agreed to pay a $2.25 million penalty.
Samson, age 76, will be sentenced in the fall. Under the terms of the plea agreement, he faces a maximum prison term of 24 months.
A former New Jersey attorney general, Samson was a legal adviser to Christie's 2009 campaign for governor and led the transition committee after Christie was elected. He was appointed to the Port Authority position in 2011 by Gov. Christie and resigned in 2014, amid the scandal surrounding the politically motivated lane closings on the George Washington Bridge between Manhattan and Ft. Lee, New Jersey.
The bridge is operated by the Port Authority.