Former Port Authority Chairman Sentenced in ‘Chairman’s Flight’ Scandal

By David Cruz

On the same day his good friend and alleged co-conspirator was being memorialized, David Samson — the former state attorney general and Port Authority chairman — learned that he will not serve any jail time after pleading guilty to extorting a personal flight to South Carolina from United Airlines in exchange for considerations from the Port Authority.

“This was an extraordinary ask of United Airlines, demand, that United take a plane that would otherwise be flying somewhere else and fly it down and back to Columbia, S.C., once a week, at the exact times that would be most convenient for Mr. Samson to fly to his country home and that’s a kind of corruption that is pretty staggering, ridiculous, as the judge put it,” said U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman. “And it’s something that I think the people should be aware of. The only reason Mr. Samson was in a position to demand that was because of his position as the chair of the Port Authority board.”

Defense attorneys painted a picture of a public servant who made a mistake in what Defense Attorney Michael Chertoff called the “final lap” of his life. He called on the judge to consider the fact that Samson is a cancer survivor, who suffers with tremors and a heart condition.

They didn’t speak to us afterwards but released a statement which said, in part: “The Court, after full and careful consideration, imposed a fair and just sentence. [David Samson] expressed deep remorse for his actions and has paid a significant personal and professional price.”

“We were perfectly willing to concede that he had an extraordinary public service career and had done things for friends, family and strangers that were worthy of consideration,” said Fishman. “We just didn’t think it they were worthy of quite as much consideration as the court gave it.”

The late transportation commissioner Jaime Fox was mentioned several times today.

He was indicted as part of this case and today the defense tried to make the point that Fox played a big role in pushing the so-called “Chairman’s Flight,” while he served as a lobbyist for United Airlines.

Chertoff said it was Fox who “added coal to the fire” and that he held a “ambiguous position” as a lobbyist that created a “moral fog.”

And lastly, the prosecution noted the irony that, after all this, Samson will now spend all his time at the very home in South Carolina for which the “Chairman’s Flight” was created.

All in all, an ignoble end to a 50-year career in public service.