Former New York State Senate leader John Sampson was sentenced to 5 years in prison Wednesday for lying and obstructing justice to cover up his misuse of escrow money as a private lawyer.
Brooklyn U.S. District Judge Dora Irizarry also imposed a $75,000 fine on the former Democratic leader from Canarsie whose 2015 conviction was one in a string of corruption cases that have rocked Albany.
Sampson, 51, had allegedly misused $440,000 in escrow money to help finance a political campaign for district attorney in Brooklyn, then did favors for Edul Ahmad, a local businessman who gave him $188,000 to help cover up the misuse of funds.
He was not convicted of those charges but was convicted of lying to the FBI and recruiting a childhood friend, Sam Noel, who worked for the Brooklyn U.S. attorney’s office, as a mole to keep track of an investigation of Ahmad, who he feared might become an informant.
The former legislator said his greatest regret was ruining the career of Noel, who was his buddy growing up in a rough Brooklyn neighborhood and struggling to succeed. Sampson also expressed remorse.
“My parents raised me better than this,” he told Irizarry. “They did not sacrifice for me to be in this predicament. I apologize for my actions, but most of all I apologize for not respecting others.”
The judge said that Sampson’s abuse of his friendship with Noel “made my skin crawl,” calling the damage to two lives a “tragedy” that she understood because she had also risen from humble origins in the South Bronx.
“You, yourself,” Irizarry said, shaking her head. “Destroyed. Destroyed.”
The judge also lashed Sampson for his selfishness, revealing that his wife earned annual income of $750,000 at an accounting firm and wondering why Sampson had to resort to crime.
“What level of greed do you have to have to engage in this conduct?” she said.
Sampson faced up to 20 years in prison. Defense lawyers, citing Sampson’s good works as a legislator from 1997 to 2015, asked for a sentence of 366 days in prison or, alternatively, 18 months with half served under house arrest. Prosecutors urged a sentence of 87 months under federal sentencing guidelines.
They said that in addition to Sampson’s crimes, he improperly continued to engage in the practice of law in family court after his license was suspended due to his conviction, and urged the judge not to give him credit for his work as a senator.
“It doesn’t matter that he served the public some of the time,” prosecutor Alex Solomon said. “He should have been serving the public all of the time.”
The five-year term matched the sentence handed down last year to former Republican Senate majority leader Dean Skelos, convicted of using his legislative power to shake down businesses to give work to his son Adam.
Defense lawyers said they plan to appeal Sampson’s conviction. Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Robert Capers praised the sentence. “Mr. Sampson was an attorney and a state senator who abused every position of trust he held for his own good,” Capers said.
Sampson was ordered to begin serving his prison sentence on April 21.