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Former Port Authority Head Pleads Guilty While United Walks

Deals come as federal attorneys bring the Newark corruption case to a close.

The former head of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey pleaded guilty to one count of felony bribery, while United Airlines will not be criminally charged for their part in the case. Both of the announcements come as the Department of Justice brings their corruption case surrounding Newark Liberty Airport (EWR) to a close.

David Samson, the former Port Authority administrator appointed by New Jersey governor Chris Christie, pleaded guilty to a single charge of bribery, NJ.com reports. The 76-year-old politician who formerly served as New Jersey’s attorney general will be sentenced on October 20, when he will face a sentence of up to two years in federal prison.

During the 30-minute plea hearing, Samson admitted to meeting with a United consultant in September 2011, where they discussed a discontinued and unprofitable flight between EWR and Columbia, S.C. Because Samson owned a vacation home in South Carolina, he told the consultant resuming the flight “would be helpful” to forwarding a United plan to building a wide-body aircraft hangar at their hub airport. The hangar plan was approved three months later and United resumed the flight shortly afterward. According to his testimony, Samson took “the chairman’s flight” approximately 27 times between 2011 and 2013.

The plea deal comes as United announced that they had come to a non-prosecution agreement with the Department of Justice. In a 20-page letter from the United States Attorney District of New Jersey Special Prosecutions Division, federal attorneys said they would not press charges against the airline in exchange for United accepting responsibility for their actions in the situation and their continued cooperation during the investigation.

However, the agreement does not mean that United will get away without any penalties. As a result of the agreement, United will be forced to abide by the agreement for two years. In addition, United must also refrain from committing another felony, completely disclose non-privileged information and disclose any criminal investigations to the special prosecutor. United will also pay a $2.25 million penalty and could face additional criminal tax charges.

“We will continue to act with the utmost integrity in everything we do,” Oscar Munoz, chief executive of United, said in a press release, “ensuring that we are always conducting business ethically and with the best interests of all of our stakeholders in mind.”

In addition to the financial and monetary penalties, the case was costly for United former chief executive Jeff Smisek. The final payout for the embattled executive cost the Chicago-based airline $37 million, including a cash payment of over $4 million and free flights for the rest of his life. With the non-prosecution agreement, Smisek is one step closer to keeping his settlement, which includes a clause that would take away the settlement if he is convicted of a crime.

[Photo: Wall Street Journal]

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