NY state Sen. Sampson found guilty of obstruction

AP News
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Posted: Jul 24, 2015 10:08 PM
NY state Sen. Sampson found guilty of obstruction

NEW YORK (AP) — A once-powerful New York politician was convicted Friday on charges he lied to the FBI in an attempt to obstruct a corruption investigation targeting him for embezzlement.

A federal jury in Brooklyn reached the verdict after deliberating for about a week at the trial of state Sen. John Sampson.

The Brooklyn Democrat was found guilty of one count of obstruction of justice and two counts of making false statements. He was acquitted on six other counts, including witness tampering.

Sampson, 50, who was re-elected last year, was at the center of the latest federal trial resulting from federal prosecutors' campaign against dirty dealing in Albany.

The verdict showed that the jury agreed that the defendant has an "utter disregard for the rule of law and criminal justice system," acting U.S. Attorney Kelly Currie said outside court.

Defense Attorney Nathaniel Akerman called the mixed verdict a partial victory, and told reporters he would pursue all his appeal options to appeal the convictions "until Mr. Sampson is vindicated."

Also speaking outside court, jury forewoman Kim O'Meally said that jurors decided to clear Sampson on the counts tied to a government cooperator, real estate developer Edul Ahmad. Asked what she thought of the witness, she replied: "He's dirty."

Prosecutors originally charged him with embezzling funds while acting as a court-appointed referee for home foreclosure proceedings in the mid-2000s. They also alleged he persuaded Ahmad to loan him nearly $200,000 to cover up the theft in exchange for political favors.

A judge set aside the embezzlement charges but allowed prosecutors to proceed with an obstruction case that relied largely on the testimony of Ahmad, who pleaded guilty to mortgage fraud charges.

At trial, jurors heard conversations recorded by Ahmad of an encounter with Sampson at a Queens restaurant in 2012. Ahmad testified that he told Sampson the government had subpoenaed his business documents, then showed the senator a record of the loan to him and asked what he should do with it.

"That's a problem. ... I don't think you should show it to them," Sampson said, according to a transcript.

There also was testimony from a former paralegal who testified how Sampson exploited their lifelong friendship by persuading the witness to check a law enforcement database for names of cooperating witnesses.

Sampson "thought he was above the law, the defendant acted as if he was above the law and the defendant broke the law," prosecutor Paul Tuchman said in closing arguments.

Akerman argued that Sampson was entrapped by Ahmad in a convoluted sting operation "that would make Steven Spielberg proud."

Sampson automatically loses his seat in the Senate because of the felony conviction. It's up to Gov. Andrew Cuomo to call a special election for Sampson's former seat. A spokesman for the Democratic governor declined to comment on Cuomo's intentions on Friday.

Sampson is one of six former legislative leaders to face criminal charges in recent years. Three former Democratic Senate leaders — Sampson, ex-Sen. Pedro Espada and ex-Sen. Malcolm Smith — have been convicted. Former Republican Sen. Joseph Bruno was acquitted, while former Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and former Republican Senate Leader Dean Skelos have both pleaded not guilty to unrelated corruption charges.

Silver and Skelos resigned their leadership positions but are keeping their legislative seats while they fight the charges.

Sampson faces up to 10 years in prison. No sentencing date was set.

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Associated Press Writer David Klepper in Albany contributed to this report.