Former Port Authority chairman pleads guilty to bribery

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FILE - David Samson, chairman of The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, talks at the beginning of the public session of the board of commissioners monthly meeting, Wednesday, March 19, 2014, in Jersey City, N.J. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

David Samson, former chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and close advisor to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, pleaded guilty Thursday to a felony bribery charge in federal court.

Samson admitted to coercing the parent company of United Airlines to set up a nonstop flight from Newark-Liberty International Airport to Columbia, South Carolina, to make it easier for him and his wife to get to their vacation home.

United discontinued the money-losing flight three days after Samson resigned. United's CEO resigned after an investigation into that service.

"This kind of case shakes public confidence in our institutions of government when people who are so accomplished, and who have occupied so many positions of public trust, misuse their authority to get something for themselves," U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman said in a statement. "It's a betrayal of our trust and what we have the right to expect from those in public life and it makes the job of every honest public employee just that much harder."

Samson will be sentenced to between probation to 24 months in prison under the terms of his plea agreement.

The Department of Justice said that Jamie Fox, 61, was charged in a separate criminal complaint with conspiring to commit bribery. He was a lobbyist and consultant for United's parent company in 2011 when Samson pressured the airline to create the flight.

United's parent company cooperated with the investigation, agreed to reform its compliance program, and will pay a $2.25 million penalty, the Department of Justice said.

The investigation that lead to Samson's guilty plea is part of the feds examination of the intentional tie-up of traffic at the George Washington Bridge in 2013.

Samson, who was at the helm of the PA during the lane closures, has not been charged in that part of the investigation. 

The inspector general of the PA was also expected to attend the news conference, according to the prosecutor's office.