The 76-year-old Samson, a former state attorney general and longtime confidant of Gov. Chris Christie, faces up to two years in prison under his plea agreement with the U.S. Attorney's Office, plus a fine of $250,000 or twice the gross gain or loss from the offense.
United Continental Holdings Inc Chief Executive Jeff Smisek and two other senior executives resigned in September 2015 after an internal probe into whether the airline tried to curry favor with Samson by adding non-stop flights between New Jersey and SC, where Samson had a vacation home.
Prosecutors also filed a criminal complaint against former state Transportation Commissioner Jamie Fox - who was appointed by Christie - charging him with conspiring with Samson and others to commit bribery in his role as a lobbyist and consultant for the airline. United had been operating weekly flights between Newark and a small airport in Columbia, S.C., that was near a home owned by Samson. "It was an unacceptable abuse of public authority".
Federal prosecutors had been investigating Samson since he was forced to step down in March 2014 from the Port Authority, following allegations that he used his position as head of the multi-billion dollar agency for his personal benefit and to benefit clients of his powerful law firm. The Port Authority's board was considering a proposal to build a hangar for wide-bodied planes, a project that stood to benefit United. Smisek received a package worth $36.8 million in severance and benefits when he resigned, but the airline could recoup a chunk of that amount if he pleads guilty or is convicted of a crime.
While Christie hasn't been accused of wrongdoing, the criminal actions underscore an old-fashioned political lesson - choose your friends carefully - at a precarious moment for Christie's Republican Party as it prepares for its presidential nominating convention next week. Referred to, according to the DOJ, as "the chairman's flight" by Samson and others, Samson used it 27 times between October 2012 and January 2014 to travel from his work to his home in SC. United agreed to pay the fine and enhance its anti-bribery and anti-corruption training and standards, Fishman said in announcing he wouldn't prosecute the airline.
He will be sentenced on October 20, NJ.com reported.
The flight was canceled days after Samson resigned in 2014. Trump's spokeswoman, Hope Hicks, didn't immediately return an e-mail seeking comment. Around the same time, Chicago-based United was pressing for concessions from the agency, including the new hangar at Newark, rent reductions and a commuter rail-line extension that would connect the airport directly to lower Manhattan.
"In advance of the board's next meeting, on December 8, 2011, Samson and Fox continued to use Samson's official authority to pressure United".
The so-called "chairman's flight", which departed Newark on a Thursday and returned on a Monday, was introduced 18 months into Samson's tenure at the Port Authority.
Three other former Christie allies have been charged for their suspected roles in creating traffic jams near the George Washington Bridge in 2013 to punish a local Democratic mayor who didn't back the governor's re-election.
The US Attorney's Office (USAO) for the District of New Jersey cites the carrier's "extensive" cooperation and its acceptance of responsibility as factors behind why it chose to not pursue further action against the carrier.
An attorney for a former United Airlines lobbyist charged with conspiracy in a New Jersey airline case says he would never jeopardize his reputation by engaging in illegal behavior. "The governor is either a bad judge of character when it comes to making high level appointments or is not as forthcoming as he'd like us to believe". Samson left the courthouse after posting $100,000 bond and surrendering his passport.