Folks, we may have ourselves a power move of epic — and criminal — proportions.
David Samson is the former chairman of the Port Authority of New Jersey. You may recognize his name from the firestorm that followed the release of emails showing aides of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie setting up lane closures on the George Washington Bridge with the assistance of Port Authority officials. Samson resigned in the wake of the bridge scandal, but he’s now being investigated by federal prosecutors for alleged kickbacks he received while dealing with United Airlines.
Per Bloomberg, for 18 months, a regional jet flew out of United’s Newark hub on Thursday nights bound for Columbia, S.C. On Monday mornings, the jet would return to Newark. Oh, and Samson owns a weekend home in Aiken, S.C., about 50 miles from Columbia. Okay, maybe that’s just a coincidence. The feds don’t seem to think so:
Federal prosecutors want to know if United offered the flight because David Samson, then chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, spent weekends in Aiken, S.C., about 50 miles from the Columbia airport. The Port Authority and United have received subpoenas from U.S. investigators examining Samson’s travel and his communications with United, The Record newspaper in New Jersey reported earlier this month. Samson referred to the Columbia route as the “chairman’s flight,” the newspaper reported, citing a source it did not identify.
The “chairman’s flight”? Complete power move. At a minimum, Samson is guilty of totally abusing the three-day weekend.
Now, the “chairman’s flight” suspiciously ended three days after Samson resigned from the Port Authority for the whole bridge traffic thing. It’s worth noting that Newark Liberty airport is one of United’s largest hubs and is overseen by the Port Authority. In April 2013, United inked a 20-year lease extension with Newark Liberty airport. According to Eric Fraser, an attorney and an expert in regulatory law, “The Port Authority can really make or break United at that Airport.” It looks like the fallout could be significant for both parties:
If the Columbia flight began as United’s effort to curry favor with a public official it felt it needed to keep happy, or was the result of a perceived threat to the carrier by a powerful political force, the legal consequences could be significant for both the airline and Samson, says Mary Schiavo, a former federal prosecutor and Department of Transportation inspector general, who now works in private practice in Mount Pleasant, S.C.
“If United realized they were offering this flight to curry favor with a public official, then United’s in the soup—it’s a bribe,” Schiavo says. “Just because they felt that if they didn’t do it for this guy that they would somehow suffer with their leases or whatever at the Newark airport … then they’re just as guilty as who got the gratuity or got the bribe. It’s not like this guy was going to wrestle them to the ground or chain up all their airplanes.”
This looks bad. I wish no ill will on anyone, but I haven’t forgotten the hell I went through trying to change a flight on United a few months back..