New Jersey 'Bridgegate' figure to plead guilty to federal charge: local media

Reuters News
Posted: Jul 14, 2016 9:44 AM

NEW YORK (Reuters) - David Samson, a key figure in the "Bridgegate" scandal that tarnished New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's administration, was expected to plead guilty on Thursday to federal charges tied to a scheme involving United Airlines.

A single conspiracy-related felony charge was expected to be filed against Samson, local media reported on Thursday. He resigned 2014 as chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey amid a probe of the George Washington Bridge traffic jam that top Christie aides were accused of engineering to punish a local politician.

A spokesman for Paul Fishman, U.S. Attorney for New Jersey, declined to comment to Reuters on the case, saying no court documents had yet been filed. An employee at Newark federal court confirmed that Samson was scheduled to appear before U.S. District Judge Jose Linares on Thursday.

Samson's attorney, Michael Chertoff, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

United officials declined to comment on the media reports.

The Bridgegate scandal hung over Christie's failed Republican presidential bid and continues to cast a shadow as he is among those being considered as a vice presidential running mate for the Nov. 8 election by presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.

United Continental Holdings Inc Chief Executive Jeff Smisek and two other senior executives resigned in September 2015 following an internal probe into whether the airline had added flights to curry favor with Samson. United flew half-empty flights between New Jersey and South Carolina, where Samson had a vacation home.

The probe was prompted by a U.S. federal investigation into the Bridgegate scandal.

United ended the nonstop flights between Newark Liberty International Airport, which is run by the Port Authority and where United sought improvements, and Columbia Metropolitan Airport near Samson's vacation home shortly after Samson left the government body in 2014.

The flights from Columbia to Newark were more than half-empty on average, according to U.S. government data.

The plea deal does not call for Samson, a former New Jersey attorney general appointed by Christie to head the Port Authority in 2011, to cooperate with the government in its ongoing investigation into Bridgegate, according to local media. Bridge lane closings sparked a three-day traffic jam in September 2013.

A September trial date has been set for former top Christie aides Bill Baroni and Bridget Anne Kelly, who famously emailed a colleague, "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee," just before the lane closings. Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich had declined to endorse Christie's re-election effort in 2013.

(Additional reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Frances Kerry)