State Sen. John Sampson indicted on nine counts

HERB BOYD Special to the AmNews | 6/13/2013, 12:53 p.m.
State Sen. John L. Sampson of Brooklyn, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee,...
State Sen. John Sampson indicted on nine counts

State Sen. John L. Sampson of Brooklyn, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, was arraigned Monday afternoon in federal district court and charged with obstruction of justice, embezzlement and witness tampering.

Sampson, 47, has been indicted on trying to undermine a federal fraud investigation of his law practice by gaining access to information from an employee of the Brooklyn U.S. attorney's xHe was apparently seeking to identify cooperators in his case in order to "take them out," prosecutors claim in issuing the indictment against him. Sampson said he was not guilty of any of the nine counts against him, including two counts of embezzlement, two counts of lying to the FBI and five counts of obstruction of justice.

There was no response to calls to his attorney, Zachary Carter, though he told reporters that he took exception to his client being accused by federal prosecutors of public corruption. None of the charges, he contended, had anything to do with Sampson's role as a lawmaker.

A plea agreement was offered to Sampson by a prosecutor, which he has until the end of May to accept. In effect, Sampson would plead guilty to the embezzlement charge and accept a sentence of 37 to 46 months; otherwise, he could face up to 20 years in prison if found guilty at trial.

The indictment against Sampson adds to the growing list of Albany power brokers either convicted or facing charges of wrongdoing, including Joe Bruno, Pedro Espada Jr. and Malcolm Smith.

And nailing Sampson means another African-American elected official has been less than honorable in carrying out his duties as a public servant. Sampson was severely chastised by U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch, who said the allegations against him "show the extreme arrogance and hubris involved in this case. ... I think it erodes the public trust. I think it causes people to become more cynical."

As a court-appointed referee for home foreclosures, Sampson allegedly embezzled $440,000 in surplus money from escrow accounts under his supervision. The surplus money was supposed to go to the county clerk's office to be shared among people with claims and people who had recently lost their homes.

Though it remains to be absolutely confirmed, it is allegedly Sampson's voice heard on the phone with state Sen. Shirley Huntley as a deal is being brokered with a businessman seeking to lease space at JFK Airport in Huntley's district. Huntley, who pled guilty to conspiracy last winter, was wearing a wire to get her sentence reduced and received $1,000 through the arrangement, but the businessman was unable to acquire the space.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Sampson's predicament only "made a bad situation worse," referring to the 32 other state elected officials charged or convicted with wrongdoing. "With today, there's more of an urgency to do it, and denial is not a life strategy," he said, emphasizing the need for tougher anti-corruption measures.

"The latest indictment of a public official underscores the need for cleaning up the many pockets of corruption that are eroding public trust in government," said Julie Menin, former chair of Community Board No. 1 and candidate for Manhattan borough president. "We should learn from these indictments and shape a comprehensive package of reforms to prevent office holders from abusing the public trust. Now is the right time to act."