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Friday, December 2, 2016

By Michael Linhorst, The Record (Hackensack, NJ)

TRENTON, NJ — Federal prosecutors in New Jersey are investigating Port Authority Chairman David Samson’s overlapping public and private interests, a source said Tuesday, on the eve of a commissioners’ meeting at which protesters are expected to repeat calls for Samson’s resignation.

The U.S. attorney for New Jersey issued a subpoena requesting documents related to Samson’s involvement in agency votes that benefited clients of his powerful law firm, Wolff & Samson, said a source familiar with the matter who would speak only on condition of anonymity.

The subpoena, which was issued early last week, appears to expand U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman’s investigation beyond the September lane closures at the George Washington Bridge and into the chairman’s business dealings.

“We don’t comment on any investigations,” Samson’s attorney, Michael Chertoff, said in a statement.

A similar subpoena was issued by federal prosecutors in Manhattan earlier this month but was quickly withdrawn, as authorities in New York agreed to cede the investigation to their counterparts across the Hudson River. Fishman had already begun a review of the lane closures that were ordered by David Wildstein, another Port Authority ally of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

Samson has come under fire for his vote on a $256 million reconstruction of the rundown PATH station in Harrison three months after a builder represented by Wolff & Samson proposed converting a nearby warehouse into hundreds of luxury apartments.

Records show Samson also voted to reduce a yearly lease payment from more than $900,000 to $1 for a park-and-ride lot in a deal with NJ Transit. At the time, NJ Transit was paying his firm up to $1.5 million for work related to maximizing profits on park-and-ride lots. After The Record reported on that issue, Samson said he had meant to recuse himself from the vote.

A subcommittee of the Port Authority’s Board of Commissioners is scheduled to reconsider the lease deal Wednesday morning, before the board meets later in the day.

Samson also voted on two bridge contracts worth $2.8 billion that went to construction companies represented by his firm. A person briefed on the subpoena said it requested documents related to those decisions, and possibly others.

About 30 protesters will be posted outside that meeting to call for Samson’s resignation, according to the New Jersey Working Families Alliance, which is organizing the protest. The group describes itself as an association of union organizers and environmentalists and is affiliated with nearly a dozen public- and private-sector unions.

“You really see this groundswell of opposition to him remaining as chairman of the Port Authority, and I think tomorrow’s protest will demonstrate that,” Rob Duffey, communications director of the New Jersey Working Families Alliance, said Tuesday.

The group filed an ethics complaint against Samson this month, arguing that he violated the state’s conflict-of-interest law by getting involved in Port Authority votes that benefited clients of his law firm.

“These ethical lapses, or the allegations that we make in this complaint, demonstrate a clear violation of the public trust,” Duffey said.

Duffey said his group’s position mirrored that of Patrick Foye, the executive director of the Port Authority. Foye, who was appointed by New York’s Democratic governor, said last month that he did not believe Samson had the “moral authority” to lead the agency.