NEW YORK (AP) — A once-powerful New York state senator brazenly tried to short-circuit a federal fraud investigation of his law practice by seeking inside information from an employee of the Brooklyn U.S. attorney's office, prosecutors said Monday.
Sen. John Sampson told the employee — who has since been fired — that he wanted to identify cooperators in his case so he could arrange to "take them out," the prosecutors said in announcing an indictment against the former Democratic leader in the Senate.
The indictment also alleges that Sampson embezzled $440,000 from escrow accounts under his supervision as a court-appointed referee for foreclosures. It says some of the funds were funneled into a losing campaign to become Brooklyn district attorney.
When an interview with the FBI last year concluded with agents accusing the senator of lying, Sampson responded, "Not everything I told you was false," the indictment says.
The allegations "show the extreme arrogance and hubris involved in this case," U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch said.
Sampson, 47, was to appear later Monday in federal court in Brooklyn. There was no immediate reply to messages left with his attorney.
The announcement was latest chapter in a widening corruption scandal that's resulted in criminal charges against other lawmakers and turned some into wire-wearing informants. Lynch told reporters the "saddest part" of the slew of cases is that it's tarnished the reputation of the entire legislature.
"I think it erodes the public trust," she said. "I think it causes people to become more cynical."
FBI Assistant Director George Venizelos said in statement: "We share what may well be the concern of many New Yorkers that 'incumbent' and 'defendant' cannot be accepted as interchangeable."
Sampson's arrest on Monday morning 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 brokering 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 Lynch declined to comment Monday on reports that it was Sampson.
Huntley is scheduled to be sentenced on 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.
Sampson was Democratic majority leader for part of a term that was marked by political gridlock. He rose to the position after Smith, in his partial term as majority leader, lost power during a time of a Republican-led coup. Huntley, Castro, Stevenson, and Smith had no real power in statewide issues or spending, but wielded more power within their own New York City districts.
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.
Senate Democratic Conference Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said Sampson has been removed from his ranking positions and committee assignments.