Caribbean American ex-senator jailed for five years

A United States federal district judge in Brooklyn has sentenced a former Caribbean American legislator to five years in prison after he was convicted two years ago for trying to prevent a federal probe and making false statements to government agents.

Judge Dora L. Irizarry, of the Southern District Court of New York, imposed the sentence on John Sampson, 51, the son of a Guyanese father, on Wednesday.

Sampson, a former New York State Senator for the 19th Senatorial District in Brooklyn, was the Democratic Leader in the New York State Senate. His district, which includes the Brooklyn neighborhood of Canarsie, is currently represented by Guyanese education administrator Roxanne Persaud.

In imposing the sentence, Judge Irizarry said Sampson’s crimes were very serious because they “go to the heart or integrity of our criminal justice system.”

“At the root of all this is some idea you picked up along the way — that you had a right to dispense with your ethical obligations,” the judge told Sampson.

Defying his lawyers’ orders not to speak at his sentencing, Sampson, a disbarred lawyer, apologized to the court, telling Judge Irizarry that his actions “caused suffering to my family, my constituents and my man, Sam Noel.”

Noel, Sampson’s friend and a longtime paralegal in the same federal prosecutor’s office that was pursuing Sampson, had testified at Sampson’s trial that the former senator asked him to use his position in the prosecutors’ office to look up information about any case being pursued against him, according to the New York Times.

Noel also told the jury that Sampson had asked him to look up information about the case of another Sampson friend, Guyanese-born businessman Edul Ahmad, of Richmond Hill, Queens.

Noel, who was prosecuted and lost his job, had used confidential law enforcement databases to make both queries, the Times said.

Sampson told Judge Irizarry that he felt guilty in betraying Noel, saying that his guilt “tears at my soul every single day.

“[The] bottom line is my parents raised me better than this,” he said. Sampson’s deceased mother was from South Carolina.

Alexander Solomon, an assistant United States attorney, told Judge Irizarry that Sampson’s actions were “shockingly disturbing,” particularly for a man who had once served as the chairman of the State Senate’s ethics committee, according to the Times.

“He was manipulative, vulgar, selfish and greedy,” Solomon said.

Nick Ackerman, Sampson’s lawyer, had asked the judge for leniency, saying that his client had suffered “tremendous reputational damage.

“The shame and humiliation Mr. Sampson feels will stay with him for life,” he said.

Until mid-2015, the Times said Sampson, was “a powerhouse in Albany,” New York State’s capital, but, in July of that year, he was found guilty of attempting to derail an investigation into allegations that he had embezzled more than US$400,000 in state money while working as a court-appointed referee for foreclosed properties in Brooklyn.

During his trial, prosecutors in the United States attorney’s office in Brooklyn said Sampson had used the money in part to pay for his unsuccessful 2005 campaign for Brooklyn district attorney, the Times said.

Although the embezzlement charges were thrown out by Irizarry because the statute of limitations had passed, the paper said prosecutors charged Sampson with obstruction and lying to federal agents.

The guilty verdict centered on Sampson’s relationship with Ahmad and Noel, the Times said.

It said Ahmad, who agreed to cooperate with the government after he was charged with mortgage fraud, testified that Sampson had threatened to silence anyone who was helping the investigators.

The prosecutors also played video and audio recordings at the trial of a “visibly distraught Mr. Sampson taking a check register that Mr. Ahmad indicated could prove the embezzlement and putting it in his pocket,” the Times said.

In receiving his sentence, Sampson joined the ranks of powerful state politicians who have been prosecuted and punished for their misconduct in recent months, the Times said.

It said that, in May, Sheldon Silver, a Democrat and the former speaker of the State Assembly, was sentenced to 12 years in prison for corruption.

Just days later, Dean Skelos, the onetime Republican Senate majority leader, was sentenced in the same federal courthouse in Manhattan to five years in prison after being convicted with his son, Adam, of abusing his office, the Times said.

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