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.”
Attorney Ken Thompson, who is a candidate for Brooklyn district attorney, believes a “corrupt political culture has festered on Joe Hynes’ watch, but for the second time in four days, it has been federal prosecutors–not our own district attorney–going after alleged public corruption in Brooklyn. This is nothing new.
“When the district attorney has to recuse himself from prosecuting politicians like Vito Lopez,” Thompson continued, “you know that politics clearly matter more than public integrity to Joe Hynes. It’s time for new leadership in the DA’s office, which will take on tough cases, not run the other way.”
Political consultant George Artz of the Friends for Charles Hynes, in response to Thompson’s accusations, said, “Mr. Thompson tries to avoid talking about his own nonexistent record by lashing out at others. Contrary to his record as a U.S. attorney, where he never prosecuted a public official, Joe Hynes convicted a Brooklyn Democratic chairman and deputy Assembly speaker, three Supreme Court judges and a member of the state Assembly. It was Mr. Thompson who represented John Sampson and Pedro Espada and tried to quash a state investigation into the awarding of a casino gambling contract to AEG.” Meanwhile, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the Democratic leader of the state Senate–a position Sampson once held–has stripped the senator of his committee assignments and said that he can no longer caucus with his colleagues in the Senate.