NY senator embezzled cash to fund run for top law enforcer position: prosecutors

Posted at 8:11 PM, May 06, 2013
and last updated 2013-05-08 16:00:17-04

A lawmaker broke the law in significant ways multiple times in order to pay for his campaign to be the chief law enforcer of Brooklyn.  That’s what prosecutors said in their criminal indictment of State Senator John Sampson (D-Brooklyn), but his attorney insists that the former head of the state senate did not abuse his office in relation to any allegations against him, and that the allegations are false.

“It’s an ordinary case,” said Sampson’s attorney Zachary Carter, “that’s been coated with the paint of corruption.”  Carter was adamant that his client never abused his public office.

However, the charges against the once-powerful state senator indicate that he abused his private office.  Sampson is himself an attorney with expertise in foreclosures.  According to the indictment, he pocketed some $440,000 in escrow money from two foreclosures on which he had been designated by a court to be a legal referee.  The money was supposed to have been turned over to the Kings County Clerk in Brooklyn, but was never received.

The complaint against him goes on to say that he tried to repay the embezzled foreclosure escrow money by borrowing about $188,000 from a friend, without reporting the money.  That friend was himself in trouble with the law, having been charged with mortgage fraud in 2011.

The friend turned on Sen. Sampson as part of a plea agreement reached with prosecutors.  They have officially withheld the name of the informant, but confirm that real estate mogul Edul Ahmad was indicted by their office on the same charges and at the same time as the confidential informant in Sampson’s case.  The U.S. Attorney’s Office also requested that Sampson not have any contact with Ahmad pending trial.

John Sampson

According to the indictment, Sen. John Sampson pocketed some $440,000 in escrow money from two foreclosures on which he had been designated by a court to be a legal referee.

Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch announced the unsealing of the indictment against Sampson, saying, “He felt that however he could work the system, that was his first priority.”

The U.S. attorney said, in the late-morning news conference, that Sampson had also made contact with an administrative employee within her office to gain inside information about prosecutors’ case against him.  When Sampson was questioned by investigators about it, he lied to them, which is also a federal offense.

Sampson’s case is the latest in a steady string of recent criminal arrests of New York politicians.  Sampson turned himself in Monday morning, almost exactly a year after another state senator, Carl Kruger, was sentenced for bribery.

A year ago this week, State Senator Hiram Monserrate pleaded guilty to misusing funds. That plea came two years after his conviction for assaulting his girlfriend.

Also a year ago, State Senator Pedro Espada was found guilty of embezzlement.

All of those senators were part of a group that at one time brought State Senator Malcolm Smith to power in Albany.  Smith was indicted a month ago on bribery charges.

The day after Smith’s arrest, agents took State Assemblyman Eric Stevenson into custody, and charged him with bribery.  Stevenson was indicted as a result of secret recordings of him made by another assemblyman in legal trouble, Nelson Castro, who resigned following Stevenson’s indictment.

Also, State Senator Shirley Huntley recorded fellow lawmakers in an effort to get her embezzlement sentence reduced.  Regarding Huntley’s case, in which she’ll be sentenced on Thursday, the U.S. attorney told PIX11 News, “All I can say is that this case is ongoing.”  Her inability to disclose further information indicated that more, related criminal indictments may be forthcoming.

As for State Senator Sampson, he pleaded not guilty in Brooklyn Federal Court Monday afternoon, and the judge imposed $250,000 bail.  Sampson made no comment outside of court, but his lawyer, who is himself a former U.S. attorney for Brooklyn, said that the facts of this case will prove his client’s innocence.

“Pay attention to what’s proven,” said Zachary Carter, Sampson’s attorney, “and not what’s speculated.”