Well, we guess the voters were right to re-elect Charles Hynes back in 2005, when he was pushed fairly hard in the democratic primary by challenger, state Sen. John Sampson. (Hynes won by about four percentage points.)
Sampson, a 15-year veteran of the Legislature and chair of the senate ethics committee, was arrested today on two counts of embezzlement for, in part, using money embezzled from accounts of sales of foreclosed houses–over which he was supposed to be the protector–to finance that campaign against Hynes. He was also charged with tampering with evidence and witnesses.
Say what one wants about Hynes–and we have–but then imagine if Sampson had actually defeated the long-serving DA. Brooklynites would have an accused embezzler and evidence and witness tamperer in the most powerful law enforcement position in the borough. Yikes!
“Senator Sampson allegedly stole that money to fund his own ambition to become Brooklyn’s top state prosecutor, then engaged in an elaborate obstruction scheme to hide his illegal conduct, going so far as to counsel lies and the hiding of evidence,” U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch said.
Indeed, not only did Sampson–once again, the chair of the senate ethics committee–allegedly embezzle the money, he concocted an elaborate scheme to hush it up by “borrowing” money from a shady real estate agent, by turning an employee of the U.S. Attorney’s office into his double agent to get information on the investigation and “take out” people informing on him, and then finally, by blatantly lying to FBI agents.
And it all was done in the context of one of the biggest economic challenges of the past decades: the home foreclosure crisis, in which tens of thousands of people lost their homes as a result of a range of unethical and illegal behavior by the real estate industry.
Ironically, in 2007, Sampson portrayed himself as a housing crisis reformer, joining other senators in announcing a series of proposals to help folks keep their homes, including a six-month moratorium on foreclosures. In 2009, Sampson pompously lauded a similar package of bills signed by then-Gov. Paterson: “As we work to rebuild the economy in New York, and across the nation, ensuring that individuals and families do not lose their homes is of paramount importance.” There’s more of this, but you get the point.
Consider that just this year, Sampson, Sen. Malcolm Smith, Assemb. Shirley Huntley, Assemb. Nelson Castro, Assemb. Eric Stevenson, and Assemb. William Boyland have all been indicted, along with City Councilman Dan Halloran. Given that Huntley and Castro both wore wires against their colleagues and the incestuous nature of Albany politics, that suggests that this diseased rash of deep-seeded corruption isn’t over by any means.
Under the charges in the indictment, Sampson, an attorney who was elected to the senate in 1997, moonlighted as a court-appointed referee, overseeing the sale of foreclosed homes. In a borough where court appointments are handed out like political candy canes, how he got that lucrative gig is probably an interesting question. The indictment indicates that he got the appointment after he was elected to the senate.
As a referee, he controlled cash accounts containing the proceeds of sales of foreclosed homes in Brooklyn. He was already being paid to keep an eye on the money, but he double-down on the accounts, and allegedly stole $440,000 from the accounts of at least four foreclosed homes. The victims were the prior owners of the homes, who were entitled to that surplus money.
When he mounted his run for district attorney, campaigning as a reform candidate taking on the entrenched Hynes, he attacked the sitting DA on his record on crime: “The numbers are proof that . . . Hynes needs to be removed immediately,” he said in June 2005.
Behind the scenes, according to the indictment, Sampson illegally diverted at least $188,500 to fund his campaign from those four foreclosure accounts. In 2006, evidently worried that someone would figure out where the money came from, he got a friend in real estate to loan him that sum to cover what he had spent on the campaign. The checks weren’t written to Sampson, but to unnamed third parties. And Sampson never repaid the “loan,” and never disclosed it in his senate disclosure forms.
As the feds turned their focus on the senator’s real estate crony in 2011, Sampson pressured him not to cooperate with the probe.
On a separate track, he got a clerk in the U.S. Attorney’s office to feed him confidential information about the investigation. He wanted the names of the cooperating witnesses, so he could, “Take them out.” The federal employee finally got caught and was fired.
He told the real estate agent they couldn’t talk on the phone anymore. “I can’t talk on the phone . . . . From now on, our conversation is, ‘I don’t have no contacts, you don’t know nothing.’ When we talk, that’s how we talk.”
On Feb. 22, 2012, FBI agents confronted Sampson and he allegedly just lied to them. “I don’t have any recollection,” he told them. He claimed that he asked the federal employee for help because he wasn’t good with computers.
“At the conclusion of the interview, the agents advised Sampson that he had lied to federal agents, which constituted a federal crime,” prosecutors said. “When asked whether he wished to revise his statement, Sampson stated, ‘Not everything I told you was false.'”
Sounds like a cry for help.
You can see Sampson’s name on the “referee’s deeds” for the four Brooklyn properties identified in the indictment: 165 Forbell Street,1915 Eighth Avenue, 831 Linden Boulevard, and 224 Bay Ridge Avenue.