United Airlines has agreed to pay a $2.25 million penalty for its role in a bribery scheme involving a public official who used his post to get the airline to provide direct service to his South Carolina vacation home.
U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman on Thursday said the airline has cooperated in the federal investigation that led the former chairman of the agency that controls New York City-area airports to plead guilty to a bribery charge.
David Samson, a mentor to Republican Gov. Chris Christie, faces up to two years in prison for the “chairman’s flight.”
Prosecutors also filed conspiracy charges against a former United lobbyist, Jamie Fox. Fox, a Democrat, was later named state transportation commissioner by Christie.
His attorney wasn’t immediately available for comment.
Former United CEO Jeff Smisek and two government relations executives left the airline last September after United conducted its own investigation. None of them has been charged with any criminal wrongdoing.
Samson admitted that he used the “chairman’s flight” from Newark to Columbia, South Carolina, 27 times between October 2011 and January 2014.
He admitted that he pressured United to reinstate the flight to Columbia, not far from his vacation home in Aiken, by removing a hangar that United wanted at Newark Liberty International Airport from a board agenda.
Samson will get a sentence of probation to 24 months behind bars under an agreement. Sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 20. His attorney, Michael Chertoff, said he wouldn’t have any comment until then. Samson left the courthouse after posting $100,000 bond and surrendering his passport.
United ended the half-filled flights three days after Samson resigned his Port Authority post in March 2014 in the wake of the George Washington Bridge lane closure scandal that led to criminal charges against three other Christie allies.
Samson wasn’t charged in the bridge investigation, in which Christie allies were accused of causing traffic problems to exact revenge against a politician. But an email from a Port Authority official to a Christie aide, both of whom were later charged, described Samson “helping to retaliate” after Port Authority executive director Patrick Foye ordered the lanes reopened.
Samson, a former state attorney general, led the governor’s transition team in 2009, and Christie appointed him to the Port Authority chairman’s post in 2011.
He resigned from the Port Authority a day after a law firm’s taxpayer-funded report cleared Christie of wrongdoing and laid much of the blame for the lane closures on the Christie aide. Samson wasn’t interviewed for the report.
The bridge investigation, combined with an earlier audit that called the Port Authority “challenged and dysfunctional,” trained a spotlight on the powerful agency and eventually led to questions about Samson’s interactions with United Airlines.
When Samson was chairman, United resumed direct flights to the South Carolina airport. Around the same time, Chicago-based United was pressing for concessions from the agency, including the new hangar at Newark, rent reductions and a commuter rail-line extension that would connect the airport directly to lower Manhattan.
This story has been updated.