Under Christie, Business Booms for Port Authority's Chief

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The now former Port Authority Chairman David Samson at Newark International Airport announcing United Airlines adding routes in and out of Atlantic City Airport on Nov. 14, 2013 (Tim Larsen / Office of Governor Chris Christie)

The governorship of Chris Christie has been very good for David Samson, a close associate he installed as chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey - and who has emerged as a central figure in the scandals swirling around the New Jersey governor. Records show that his law firm's lobbying revenues have skyrocketed during Christie's tenure, and its business as a bond counsel has quadrupled.

Christie and Samson met when Christie was U.S. Attorney in Newark and Samson was New Jersey attorney general, appointed by Gov. Jim McGreevey, a Democrat. The two became close, frequently dining at Pals Cabin, a classic Jersey steakhouse in West Orange. Samson would become counsel to Christie's 2009 campaign, provide campaign offices, and become Christie's transition chair. Samson was so close to Christie that he was part of a small coterie that traveled with the Governor to the Republican Governors Association meeting in Arizona last November. And he was on the stage this week when Christie - who calls Samson "General" in recognition of his time as the state's top law enforcement officer - was sworn into a second term.

Long an influential attorney in the state, Samson during Christie's tenure has become the go-to man for people with business to do in New Jersey.  His law firm, Wolff and Samson, saw an increase in its lobbying business from $40,000 before Christie was elected to over $1 million annually in the years after, according to state records. 

Among its clients were GTECH, an online gambling and lottery operator; a firm whose effort to run a gas pipeline through the Pinelands recently was stymied, despite a push from the Christie Administration; the International-Matex Tank Terminal in Bayonne, a port facility; and a number of real estate developers, including the Rockefeller Group.

Federal prosecutors are investigating claims by Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer that Christie's lieutenant governor, Kim Guadagno, threatened that the state would withhold Sandy aid for Hoboken unless she supported the Rockefeller Group project - a plan backed by a $75,000 Port Authority-funded study. Guadagno and other state officials have vigorously denied applying any such pressure. Zimmer has said that Lori Grifa, a Wolff & Samson attorney who previously served Christie as commissioner of the state Department of Community Affairs, also pressed her to support the Rockefeller Group plan. 

"It has the appearance of significant conflict of interest," said James Doig, a Dartmouth and Princeton professor who is the author of Empire On the Hudson, the definitive tome on the history of the Port Authority. Doig said it could be possible for Samson or Christie to present information showing the mixing of business and government work were proper. But, he added, "until I  had information that seemed persuasive I would say it looks like a clear ethical violation."

Records also show that Wolff & Samson's municipal bond counsel business has quadrupled during Christie's tenure. During the previous administration of Gov. Jon Corzine, the firm handled $2.4 billion worth of bond sales. In Christie's first term, just concluded, that jumped to $10.1 billion, according to data provided to WNYC by Thomson Reuters, a media and information company that tracks the municipal bond market.  

In addition to his firm's tie to the Hoboken imbroglio, emails disclosed in the legislative inquiry into the George Washington Bridge traffic snarl show that Samson was in communication with two men who Christie fired for their roles in orchestrating the traffic jam. Christie has stood by Samson, even though he ousted four other officials tied to the bridge traffic scandal.

Neither Samson, the Governor, or the Port Authority responded to requests for comment.

With reporting by Joseph Capriglione.


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Comments [12]

bj from Seattle, WA

Congratulations on the hard work you are doing. I know that looking into these matters takes enormous resources not the least of which is the time needed to research and review all the documents. Please keep it up.

Jan. 28 2014 04:08 PM
Irony from IA

Allegedly Quadel's take and HGI or the take on HGI and Quadel are a thin blue LIE. As they say follow the money. Follow the Money, tunnel and the bridge not to mention the port authority. All roads lead to the alleged comments regarding the Cash Cow and Big Fat Bully. Just as SAMSON and DELILAH were linked together,could there be another connection, a allegedly modern Hairy LIE...

Jan. 26 2014 07:51 PM
iMan9796 from New Jersey

Regarding Bridgegate, Gov. Christie promised to disclose any evidence “that come forward that requires action to be taken.” He added, “I will take it, no matter how much it hurts me personally or dismays me, because this is the job I asked for, and I’ve got to do it.”

I wonder if that applies to the well documented rampant theft of Lost & Found property at the Port Authority Bus Terminal by Port Authority Supervisors, and the illegal written policy of throwing lost valid passorts in the garbage instead of mailing them to their respective embassies if their owners could not be found. Now just imagine the damage that a terrorist group or an identity theft ring could do with those valid passports. Google “Donna Lebourne abc news" & see the vile face of shame being confronted and exposed for the world to see.

If the Gov. is a man of his word, he can start by axing all the supervisors at the Port Authority Bus Terminal involved in this criminal activity, the supervisors that turned a blind eye to it, and all the supervisors who participated in the coverup and retaliation as well.

Gov.Cuomo stressed that the traffic scandal did not take place on his side of the bridge, which is controlled jointly by New York and New Jersey.“It was done on the Jersey side of the bridge,” he said. “The Jersey officials handled it.

The thefts from the PABT’s Lost & Found Dept. by PABT Supervisors along with their illegal written policy of throwing valid lost passports in the garbage happened on the NY side of the GWB, so the New York officals should handle it. Gov. Cuomo it’s your turn to act, & don’t act like you didn't know. I've come to realize that ignorance is not only bliss, it is also contagious & spans both sides of the GWB. The ball is in your court.

The culture of fear is alive and well at the Port Authority, closely followed by a culture of wretched stupidity. Sadly, GWB General Manager Durando and his boss Cedrick Fulton, along with many other Port Authority employees decided to put tens of thousands of lives in jeopardy just to save their own jobs. They are all cowards, nothing more than highly paid puppets of the Port Authority. Every single one of them must be fired & prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law for aiding and abetting this criminal activity. The Port Authority has degenerated into a cesspool of crime, corruption, cover-ups & retaliation staffed with a bunch of clowns, cowards, liars & thieves."sarah+gonzales"

No one should be above the law, no matter who they are or who they work for.

Jan. 26 2014 01:45 AM
nk from West Orange, NJ

Thank you for this investigative report. Absolutely top notch.

Commuters in New Jersey have been significantly harmed by Chris Christie and his cronies.

Jan. 25 2014 11:51 AM
David Rockefeller from Manhattan

Hang this crook high! He's lawyered up because he's guilty guilty guilty. Let's give David Samson the pension he deserves - a berth in the Rahway State Pennitentary with a bunkmate named Bubba.

Jan. 25 2014 07:08 AM
Riff Gifford from Fort Lee

Fuck Samson. He is a crook and needs to be thrown in the slam and be repeatedly raped. After all, he did not hesitate to rape us!

Jan. 25 2014 06:53 AM
Joanna Stelling from New Jersey

One of the many tentacles of this David Samson, Inc. (who seems to be running the state of NJ as his own back yard)is the property he wanted to build in Hoboken as part of a project for the Rockefeller Group, which he also seems to own. My question is, weren't there environmental impact studies done on whether or not this was a viable project? Weren't there traffic studies (unlike the GW, they could do a real study). There should have been council meetings on this project but it doesn't take a genius to realize that approving one more "development" in the 4th most densely populated town in the entire country, a huge tower on a tiny plot of land, is one of the worst ideas of this century. How did this Rockefeller Group even get a foot in the door to do business with Hoboken? What Hoboken needs now are people who wil develop open spaces, rebuild the infrastructure and make it less susceptable to flooding. I guess I'm asking why a project, which is clearly ridiculous to the most untrained eye, would have gotten as far as it did. One would think that Mr. Christie, being a man who claims he loves New Jersey, would help put a halt to the overdevelopment of this area that is rapidly turning into a ghetto.

Jan. 25 2014 12:49 AM
AlisonShusterShea from coytesville, fort lee, nj

The worst kept secret in NJ, is the nations largest municipal junk bond scandal regarding the NJ Meadowlands American Dream Triple Five shopping mall and that is about to be approved by the same cabal of players. Wolff Samson is the attorneys for Triple Five and the Governors administration has fast tracked it. The Bergen County GOP party boss Alan Marcus is already being investigated by the FBI. It should be a matter of time before they are connected. If this doesnt get exposed then an even bigger scandal is being played.

Jan. 24 2014 11:48 PM
Anne Grady from Boston

Why is David Samson still Chairman of the Port Authority? Why hasn't he been fired? Or pressured to resign?

Jan. 24 2014 09:32 PM
joe small from Princeton

Ah, Pal's Cabin --- Cream of Mushroom Soup and Hamburgers -- unique and gone.

Jan. 24 2014 08:26 PM
Karen Wells

So true and shameful. Don't get mad get even 2014 VOTE

Jan. 24 2014 09:54 AM
Susan Brint from West Orange NJ

And in a strange twist -- the iconic Pal's Cabin just down the block from the offices of Wolfe & Samsin -- has been razed to the ground!

Jan. 24 2014 08:59 AM

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