May 7th - 1:40 pm
ICYMI: Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins told me last night that she’s hopeful Sen. John Sampson is the last member of her conference who will face charges for wrongdoing, but she isn’t 100 percent confident there won’t be more where that came from.
“I want to say that I feel confident,” Stewart-Cousins told me. “I feel confident that the conference that we are today is a conference that is filled with committed public servants who understand what their role is and is more than capable of performing that role.”
“I hope that there would be no other allegations against any of the members of the Legislature, frankly, because I think that we’ve all been hit and it always disturbs the public trust when we are. So it doesn’t matter if it’s this conference or that. We are all unfortunately painted with the same brush when this happens.”
Given the accelerated rate of announcements by federal prosecutors of charges being brought against state lawmakers these days, most Capitol watchers believe Sampson is probably not the end of it. Up to this point, one corruption case has led to another as dirty pols flip on their colleagues or agree to work undercover for the feds in an attempt to lessen their own charges.
Stewart-Cousins said she got a “heads-up” from Sampson the day before he turned himself in to the FBI (in other words, Sunday) after she called him to inquire about reports on his imminent arrest in the NYC tabs. During that conversation she informed him she would not only be stripping him of his ranking committee posts, but also booting him from the conference altogether.
One thing she did not do, however, is call on Sampson to resign. I asked her why not, and she said the senator is an “adult” and has to make his own decisions.
May 6th - 4:15 pm
The attorney for Sen. John Sampson this afternoon sharply disputed the implication that the Brooklyn Democrat was facing a corruption charge, saying the charges that he embezzled money from escrow accounts didn’t cross over into his public office.
“The Senator does not stand accused that indicate any misuse of his office as a New York state senator,” said his attorney, Zachary Carter. “Period, full stop.”
Sampson is accused of embezzling the funds since 1998 in his capacity as a court-appointed referee handlnig mortgage foreclosure cases for multiple Brooklyn-based properties.
Sampson pleaded not guilty this afternoon to charges he embezzled funds and then sought to obstruct the investigation by seeking information on potential cooperating witnesses.
Sampson was released on $250,000 bond.
Federal prosecutors are offering Sampson a plea deal in the case, providing that he enters guilty pleas on the embezzlement and concealment of records charges. He would face up to 46 months in prison if he did so.
Wearing sunglasses, Sampson did not address reporters outside of the court house.
Senate Democrats in Albany indicated they wanted to turn the page on the Sampson case.
Senate Republican spokesman Scott Reif, meanwhile, said there was more “work to do” for the mainline conference of Democrats.
“It’s deeply troubling when any legislator is charged with violating the public trust,” Reif said. “While the Senate Democrats said they had cleaned up their conference, the latest arrest of one of their New York City members shows they may still have some work to do.”
May 6th - 2:56 pm
Sen. John Sampson is just the latest in a line of former conference leaders in the New York state Senate to face serious corruption charges.
To be sure, the vast run-of-the-mill graft in Albany has involved rank-and-file back benchers accused of either funneling member items to a preferred non-profit or accepting wads of cash for favorable access.
But consider that Joe Bruno, Malcolm Smith, Pedro Espada and now Sampson have all faced corruption charges of one kind or another. Bruno, a Republican, had his conviction on theft of honest services overturned following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, but faces a new trial.
Espada was virtually majority leader in name only after he was given the title following the denouement of the 2009 leadership coup and Sampson never actually held the post.
But that’s four out of the last five majority party leaders (if you don’t count Dean Skelos twice) and something of an odd trend for the state Senate.
For some, it’s part of a sign that power and perks often lead to corruption.
“There is that old saying that absolute power corrupts absolutely. Not to simplify it too much but in Albany it really is true the more power people get the more influnece they have over huge pots of money,” said NYPIRG’s Bill Mahoney.
In the current leadership structure, the title of majority leader does not exist. Power in the chamber is split between the two Senate co-presidents, Jeff Klein and Skelos.
Though no new members are being approved, previously approved grants remain. And party leaders are able to control vast campaign accounts and leadership posts as well.
“There are a lot of ways in which these people can run into problems,” Mahoney said.
Senate Democrats, meanwhile, point out that Sampson was jettisoned last year as leader despite gains the conference made on Election Day.
“The leadership that is here now is solid, is good, is consistent,” said Sen. Terry Gipson, a freshman Democrat. “Andrea Stewart-Cousins is doing a good job, a huge contrast in past leadership.”
May 6th - 1:46 pm
With Sen. John Sampson facing federal corruption charges for allegedly embezzling $440,000 from mortgage foreclosure escrow accounts and then seeking information in the investigation, here’s a quick cheat-sheet on the Brooklyn Democrat’s recent history:
1. He was never technically the majority leader. Sen. John Sampson held the more informal title of Senate Democratic Leader after he was the consensus pick to lead the conference following the bruising 2009 leadership coup.
The majority leader post was held virtually in name only (save for that lucrative stipend) by now ex-Sen. Pedro Espada, D-Bronx. Sampson held the job of Democratic leader until last year, when he was ousted by Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers, the first women to lead any conference in the state Legislature.
Under the newly formed Senate coalition of independent Democrats and Republicans, no one holds the majority leader post.
That Sampson had fallen out of favor with his fellow Democrats was the worst kept secret in Albany. Sen. Ruth Hassell-Thompson, D-Mount Vernon, wouldn’t even rule out challenging him for the leadership post before the November elections.
2. Sampson is not a very good driver. Last summer Sampson had an early morning fender bender with his car, claiming that he swerved to avoid what called either a “cat/racoon” in the official police report. Sampson was apparently either driving to work or to the gym in the early morning hours.
The cost of the damage to the car was at least $70,000 after also hitting several high-end cars. Sampson also had racked up 23 parking tickets
3. He appointed Ravi Batra to the Joint Commission on Public Ethics. Sampson’s sole pick to the newly created ethics watchdog was a colorful and unpredictable Brooklyn attorney with ties to questionable figures, including imprisoned Brooklyn political boss Clarence Norman.
Batra also defended then-Sen. Ada Smith, was accused of, among other things, throwing coffee into an underling’s face. Batra was known for being an outspoken member of the panel, publicly questioning whether it was too closely aligned with the Cuomo administration and was even carried out on a stretcher after feeling faint following one meeting. Batra resigned as JCOPE commissioner last year.
4. His ties to the messy AEG case remain murky. When Sen. Malcolm Smith was arrested in an unrelated corruption case, the buzz around the Capitol was Sampson had a lot to worry about, considering Smith’s possible knowledge of bidding rigging for AEG. Sampson denies that any information he gave to the lobbyist was confidential. Sampson (or anyone, for that matter) is yet to face any charges for leaking internal Senate documents assessing the various bids to a lobbyist for Aqueduct Entertainment Group.
May 6th - 11:46 am
From NY1′s Grace Rauh, here is the U.S. Attorney Office’s handy flow chart on the alleged scheme by Sen. John Sampson to embezzle $440,000 from mortgage foreclosure escrow accounts, the loan to an unnamed associate and the funding of the Brooklyn Democrat’s DA campaign.
For those not into the whole brevity thing, here is the full criminal complaint.
May 6th - 11:17 am
Federal prosecutors outlined a sweeping criminal complaint against Sen. John Sampson this morning, accusing him of embezzling $440,000 from escrow accounts over more than a decade and accepting a $188,500 “loan” from a business associate later related to fraud.
In the latest corruption scandal to hit Albany, then Brooklyn Democrat was taken into custody this morning by federal agents in connection to the embezzlement scheme that began in 1998 from the escrow accounts involving multiple Brooklyn properties
And for an only-in-Albany twist, the unsealed complaint today indicates that Sampson had a mole in the U.S. Attorney’s Office supplying him with information on possible cooperating witnesses who was later fired.
His effort to find more information on the investigation and possible cooperating witnesses began in July 2011, when the unnamed associate was arrested for fraud and asking the person to withhold documentation in the case, court records show.
According to the complaint, Sampson went as far as trying to identify those cooperating with investigators so he could “take them out.”
Sampson, first elected to the Senate in 1996, was the leader of the Senate Democrats until 2011, when he was ousted by now-Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins.
Court documents also show that Sampson in an interview with federal agents admitted he sought information on the mortgage fraud case, but claimed it was only public information. When asked why he sought readily available public information on a court case when he was an attorney himself, Sampson claimed he was not “good” with computers.
When law enforcement officials interviewing the lawmaker said he was lying, Sampson responded, “Not everything I told you was false.”
Sampson is the third sitting state lawmaker this year to be arrested on corruption charges. The arrest comes after Sen. Malcolm Smith, a Queens Democrat, is accused to have sought to bribe his way onto the New York City mayoral GOP ballot.
Assemblyman Eric Stevenson was arrested that same week in an unrelated bribery scandal and accused of writing favorable legislation for the development of adult day care centers.
“Today John Sampson has been added to the list of recently indicted New York elected officials,” said FBI Assistant Director George Venizelos in a statement. “We could view this as an achievement for the FBI and federal prosecutors. But we share what may well be the concern of many New Yorkers that ‘incumbent’ and ‘defendant’ cannot be accepted as interchangeable. Elected officials are referred to as ‘public servants,’ and that should not be confused with ‘self-serving.’ The people of New York have a right to demand, at a bare minimum, that their elected representatives obey the law.”
He is being charged with obstruction of justice, two counts of witness tampering, two counts of embezzlement and making false statements.
Sampson was made leader of the conference in 2009 following the bruising leadership coup in the chamber.
May 6th - 9:38 am
FBI officals confim that former Senate Minority Leader John Sampson is un custody after turning himself into federal officials earlier this morning on public corruption charges.
Several news outlets reported over the weekend that Sampson was “Senator #1″ in the recently released sentencing document for former Senator Shirley Huntley, who plead guilty to stealing taxpayer money through a non-profit organization she set up. The sentencing document revealed that Huntley wore a wire to obtain evidence against Sampson, and two unknown lawmakers, for the FBI.
According to various reports, Sampson is expected to be charged with obstruction of justice.
We’ll obviously have more on this throughout the day.
Update: United States Attorney Loretta E. Lynch will hold a press conference at 11am to announce the unsealing of an indictment in a criminal case against a New York State elected official. She does not specifically mention Sampson but we are told by FBI sources that it will be about him.
Dec 18th - 12:28 pm
There are some interesting insider details on yesterday’s leadership vote by the Senate Democrats in Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr.’s latest “What You Should Know” missive, (which you should really endeavor to receive, if you don’t already).
Diaz Sr. was one of the six senators who remained loyal to now-deposed Minority Leader John Sampson, who was ousted after 19 members voted for Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins.
The outspoken (not to mention unpredictable) Bronx senator calls out several of his colleagues by name, including DSCC Chairman Mike Gianaris, who Diaz Sr. claims is the “main reason” Sen. Jeff Klein departed the conference back in 2010 to form the IDC.
In Diaz Sr.’s eyes, it was treason for Gianaris to be given the DSCC position by Sampson, ousting and angering Klein in the process, and then turn around nearly two years later and support Stewart-Cousins against Sampson in yesterday’s vote.
Diaz Sr. also has a bone to pick with Sen. Martin Dilan, writing:
“It is important for you to also know that during the past Democratic Primary, Senator Sampson went out of his way to support Senator Martin Malavé Dilan’s son against the incumbent Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez. Sampson not only gave Dilan’s son his support, but also contributed money and troops, making Congresswoman Velazquez a very angry political enemy. ”
“Senator John Sampson went to yesterday’s meeting counting on Senator Dilan’s support. My dear reader, you should have seen the expression on Senator Sampson’s face when he saw Senator Martin Malavé Dilan raising his hand to support Senator Andrea Stewart Cousins, and not for him. There is a saying in Puerto Rico: ‘La vida te da sorpresas.’ Life is full of surprises.”
“Now, Senator John Sampson does not stand with Senator Klein, not with Senator Gianaris, not with Senator Dilan, with no Conference Leadership position, and with many powerful enemies like Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez. This is really a no hit, no run, and a lot of errors.”
For the record, what I’ve been told by a source close to Sampson indicates that he was indeed counting Dilan as one of his supporters heading into the late afternoon meeting in New York City yesterday at which his base proved far more shallow than he had believed.
Diaz Sr. offers some “advice” to Stewart-Cousins, which basically boils down to: 1) Respect the Latino senators and give them positions of power, and 2) Get rid of Sen. Ruth Hassell-Thompson (another Sampson backer who made no secret of the fact that she had designs on the leadership herself) as conference chair.
FWIW: The senator says he never offered any quotes for the lengthy Democratic press release that formally announced Stewart-Cousins’ new leadership position. The full text of his latest “What You Should Know” appears after the jump.
Dec 17th - 6:31 pm
Sen. Liz Krueger is the first to release a statement on the ouster of Sen. John Sampson from the minority leader’s post by Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, taking some credit in the process for assisting the Westchester County lawmaker in her second successful attempt at defeating former GOP Sen. Nick Spano in 2006.
“I would like to thank and congratulate John Sampson for his more than three years of service in what is the toughest job in New York State politics.”
“John Sampson took the reins in our conference’s darkest moment and led us in the hardest circumstances a Senate Democratic leader has ever faced. Three years later we are in a better place, we have a better conference, and we have a bright future ahead of us – and he has led us to this point.”
“I am thrilled to congratulate my friend and colleague Senator Andrea Stewart Cousins on her victory in our conference’s leadership vote. As DSCC Chair in the 2004 and 2006 cycles, it was my privilege to help Andrea defeat Republican Deputy Majority Leader Nick Spano.”
“Now, six years later, I am thrilled to see her become both the leader of our conference and the first woman ever to lead a conference in the New York State Legislature. The contrast between Spano and Andrea is emblematic of the contrast between the Senate of the past and the new Senate our Democratic Conference will fight every day to create: one that is responsible, responsive, and whose ethics are beyond question.”
“Under Andrea’s leadership we will continue fight for the values shared overwhelmingly by New Yorkers across the state, we will take back the majority, and we will fundamentally reform the way Albany does business.”
Dec 17th - 6:03 pm
After winning enough seats to wrest the majority from the GOP hands, only to see it slip from his grasp thanks to six disaffected Democrats, Senate Minority Leader John Sampson now has another loss to contend with.
At a meeting in New York City this afternoon, Sampson was ousted from the leadership post he has held since the height of the 2009 coup, and replaced by Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, according to a source familiar with the vote.
Stewart-Cousins will be the first women to head a legislative conference in New York State history.
The vote “wasn’t even close,” the source said. Nineteen Democrats backed Stewart-Cousins, while six stuck with Sampson. (One senator, Kevin Parker, was not present – either on the phone or in person).
This is a significant blow for Sampson, but it’s not entirely unexpected. His grip on the leadership was widely viewed as tenuous even before the Nov. 6 elections.
Sampson himself admitted as much during a post-Election Day interview with NY1′s Errol Louis, which took place after Senator-elect Simcha Felder (also of Brooklyn) had announced he would caucus with the Republicans, but before the IDC announced it had acquired a fifth member (Sen. Malcolm Smith) and forged a power-sharing deal with the Republicans to enable them to retain the majority.
During that interview, Sampson insisted that he was still the leader, but would not be taking any of his members’ votes for granted. He said he believed the IDC, led by Sen. Jeff Klein, might yet decide to return to the Democratic fold to enable the conference to assume its rightful place – as “mandated” by the voters – in the majority.
Various members of the Democratic conference had expressed interest in ousting Sampson as far back as May, including Sen. Ruth Hassell-Thompson, who told the Daily News she would be “lying” if she said she didn’t have designs on the job.
Stewart-Cousins was floated as a possible “compromise” candidate who might be able to bridge the gap between white senators and the black and Latino senators who didn’t want to let get of the leadership post they had held since 2003 when former Gov. David Paterson ousted Minority Leader Marty Connor.
Stewart-Cousins’s main champions, according to several sources, were DSCC Chairman Mike Gianaris; Sen. Liz Krueger, of Manhattan; and Sen. Gustavo Rivera, of the Bronx. Rivera has a close relationship with Stewart-Cousins after serving as her campaign manager in 2006.
Stewart-Cousins is a former Westchester County legislator whose first run for the Senate back in 2004 resulted in one of the closest and longest-running battles in state history. She ended up losing to her Republican opponent, then-Sen. Nick Spano, by just 18 votes.
Two years later, Stewart-Cousins mounted a second challenge to Spano – this time aided by Bill and Hillary Clinton (Westchester County residents) and popular gubernatorial candidate Eliot Spitzer, who made no secret of his desire to flip the Senate into Democratic hands. This time, she was successful, defeating Spano by some 1,800 votes.