NEW YORK — A once-powerful New York state senator was arrested today in a widening corruption scandal that has resulted in criminal charges against other lawmakers and turned some into wire-wearing informants.
Sen. John Sampson has been indicted on charges of embezzlement, obstruction of justice and lying to the FBI. Agents took him into custody early today. He was to appear in federal court in Brooklyn later in the day.
Sampson was a court-appointed referee to watch over escrow accounts for sales of foreclosed properties in Brooklyn. It’s alleged he embezzled $440,000 between 1998 and 2008.
He also is accused of funneling funds into his failed campaign for Brooklyn district attorney.
“Today, John Sampson has been added to the list of recently indicted New York elected officials,” FBI Assistant Director George Venizelos said. “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.”
There was no immediate response to a message left today for Sampson’s attorney.
Senate Democratic Conference Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said Sampson has been stripped of his ranking positions and committee assignments.
The arrest of the Brooklyn Democrat came less than a week after prosecutors revealed that former Sen. Shirley Huntley, a Queens Democrat, made numerous secret recordings of other elected officials for several months last year in a bid for leniency in her own case.
Recordings of another state senator and two other officials yielded “evidence useful to law enforcement,” prosecutors said in court papers.
The senator who was recorded brokered a deal in which a businessman gave Huntley a $1,000 payment for helping him get the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to lease him more space at John F. Kennedy International Airport, prosecutors said. Court papers didn’t name the senator, and it wasn’t immediately clear if it was Sampson.
Huntley is scheduled to be sentenced Thursday after pleading guilty to mail fraud conspiracy last winter. She admitted embezzling nearly $88,000 from a state-funded nonprofit group she controlled.
Last month, state Assemblyman Nelson Castro, a Bronx Democrat, resigned after admitting that he made similar recordings of colleagues for federal investigators after they told him he would be charged with perjury in yet another corruption investigation.
His cooperation ultimately helped lead to the indictment of a fellow assemblyman from the Bronx, Eric Stevenson, who has been accused of accepting bribes in exchange for legislation that gave a competitive advantage to a business in his district. Stevenson has denied the allegations.
In another recent case, Sen. Malcolm Smith was accused of scheming with New York City Councilman Daniel Halloran, a Republican, to bribe county Republican leaders for the GOP line on this year’s mayoral ballot. Both have pleaded not guilty.
As Senate Democratic leader in 2012, Sampson stripped Huntley of leadership positions when her indictment was announced. He did the same with then-Sen. Carl Kruger when Kruger was arrested in 2011 in a separate bribery probe. Kruger pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges and was sentenced to seven years in prison.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo in recent weeks has announced several anti-corruption proposals and U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara has met with the FBI to discuss expanding anti-corruption efforts.