Port Authority boss: We're cooperating in airport perks case

AP News
|
Posted: Feb 19, 2015 7:45 PM

JERSEY CITY, N.J. (AP) — The chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey said Thursday the agency is cooperating with authorities investigating whether his predecessor received preferential treatment from United Airlines.

Chairman John Degnan, at the Port Authority's monthly board meeting, addressed questions about former chairman David Samson, who's being investigated over flights between Newark and Columbia, South Carolina, where he has a vacation home.

Federal authorities have requested records from United and from Columbia Metropolitan Airport. A direct flight between Newark and Columbia began while Samson was chairman of the Port Authority and ended days after he resigned last year.

Degnan said he wouldn't comment on the Samson investigation while it was ongoing but said it would be illegal for any Port Authority commissioner to use his position for personal gain.

"If it happened here it will be the subject of the outcome of the investigation, and people who were involved will pay the consequences," he said. "There's no failing on the part of the Port Authority, no lack of clarity on what the responsibly is for the commissioners in respect to that. We should not ever, under any circumstances or for any reason, leverage our positions at the Port Authority to secure a personal benefit."

Samson hasn't commented on the investigation.

The Port Authority, which runs area bridges, tunnels and transit hubs, including Newark Liberty International Airport, has been receiving deep scrutiny since accusations early last year that approach lanes to its George Washington Bridge were shut down to spite the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, who didn't endorse Republican Gov. Chris Christie for re-election. Christie, who along with New York's governor appoints Port Authority board members, has denied any knowledge of or involvement in what happened at the bridge, one of the nation's busiest.

The Port Authority's inspector general's office is investigating airport perks that may have been received by several commissioners, Degnan said. He added that the practice was a holdover from an earlier era at the Port Authority, and wouldn't be allowed now.

"For years, in a different climate and different times, commissioners frequently asked for that kind of assistance," he said. "I'm not prepared to indict someone or criticize them for taking advantage of what was then a permissible policy by the Port Authority. I applaud the Port Authority for keeping records, and I think we made the right decision by making them public. Should it be done today? No."

United Airlines, which is based in Chicago and whose parent company is United Continental Holdings Inc., has confirmed receiving a subpoena in the Samson probe.