A judge sentenced former Brooklyn state Sen. John Sampson to five years in prison today for lying to FBI agents and obstructing justice during a probe into his alleged embezzlement of hundreds of thousands of dollars from foreclosed properties he was supposed to be protecting.
Judge Dora Irizarry threw out the embezzlement charges in 2015, saying the statute of limitations had passed, but in July a jury convicted him of three of nine remaining charges. In addition to the prison term, the sentence calls for three years of probation and a $75,000 fine.
"I understand these actions have caused pain to my family, my constituents," Sampson told the judge. "My parents raised me better than this, and they didn't sacrifice everything so I could end up in this predicament."
"No one can understand the suffering I’ve experienced over the last chapter," he said further. "For five years I’ve been living a nightmare. I apologize for my actions, but most of all I apologize for not respecting others."
In her decision, Irizarry rejected the disgraced politician's contrition, saying he was a self-serving rule breaker for a long time.
"Where it has suited you in your own purpose, you have sidestepped your obligations, and if it hurts somebody else, so be it," she said.
Sampson, who has represented an area including Canarsie since 1996, was arrested in May 2013. The alleged embezzlement dated back to his work as a family court referee representing the interests of foreclosed properties in 1998 and 2002. Sampson allegedly funneled $440,000 from sales of properties to himself and, according to the charges that stuck, took a secret loan from developer Edul Ahmad in 2006 to try to cover his tracks.
In a recording played for jurors, Sampson met Ahmad at a diner in Howard Beach to discuss a document outlining the loan, which the feds had subpoenaed. "I don't want you to lie," Sampson said in the recording. "Just say you don't know."
Samspon also would often "threaten to silence" people cooperating with the investigation, Ahmad testified, and according to prosecutors begged a U.S. Attorney's Office source for the names of witnesses so he could "take them out."
His convictions for lying to FBI agents stemmed from his denial of his secret ownership interest in a liquor store, and his claim that he didn't recall seeing the document that memorialized the Ahmad loan.
In court filings, Sampson's lawyers argued that his conduct was less "egregious" than that of former Senate majority leader Dean Skelos, convicted last May of corruption along with his son Adam. Skelos the elder was sentenced to five years in prison and fined $500,000, and Adam was sentenced to 6 1/2 years imprisonment. Sampson's lawyers asked for one year and one day in prison, or 18 months split between prison and home confinement.
Sampson plans to appeal based on the Supreme Court decision overturning the bribery conviction of former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell, which raised the bar for prosecutors trying to prove corruption by making it so that setting up a meeting or making a call to another official alone could not qualify as an "official act" made in exchange for gifts.
Skelos and former Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver, convicted in November 2015 and sentenced to 12 years in prison last year, are both free pending appeals on this basis.
No such luck for Sampson, whom Judge Irizarry ordered to report to prison on April 21st.
During his tenure on the Senate, Sampson served for two years as minority leader, and chaired the Ethics and Judiciary committees. He was reelected in 2014 with 86 percent of the vote, and the full support of the Brooklyn Democratic machine, despite his pending criminal charges.
Sampson was disbarred in November for appearing in family court days after a court order banning him from practicing law.
"We look forward to the appeal," Nick Akerman, an attorney for Sampson, told reporters.