The Somos conference, New York’s premier political networking event that starts Wednesday, could have turned into a bad flashback moment for Mayor-elect Eric Adams if a federal judge hadn’t stepped in.
One of Adams’ pals from his past as a state senator — disgraced and convicted ex-majority leader John Sampson — sought permission from a federal judge to attend the popular gathering of pols in Puerto Rico this week.
The answer was no — because, wrote Judge Dora Irizarry, “The Somos Uno Conference is a purely political conference and the description of what [Sampson’s] activities there would entail are entirely similar to conduct related to his crimes of conviction and his unlawful use of influence as State Senate Majority leader.”
Sampson was expelled from the state Senate in 2015 after a jury convicted him of obstruction of justice and lying to federal agents. Among other allegations, Sampson was accused of embezzling $400,000 in his role as a court-appointed referee in foreclosure cases.
He appealed his conviction but in 2017 was ultimately sentenced to five years in prison after appeals judges upheld the jury’s decision. He served his time in federal prison and has been on parole since August.
Adams’ ties to Sampson date to 2010, when both men represented Brooklyn neighborhoods in the Senate. Sampson was then Senate majority leader, while Adams chaired the Racing and Wagering Committee.
Both men were implicated in an investigation by the state Inspector General, who issued a damning 2010 report finding that Sampson, Adams and another senator, Malcolm Smith, had committed ethical lapses during the awarding of a casino franchise at Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens.
The IG found evidence that both Sampson and Adams had raked in tens of thousands of dollars of political donations in exchange for steering the franchise approval to a politically wired bidder. Questioned by the IG’s attorneys, Adams’ repeatedly claimed he couldn’t recall details of the deal, including a Manhattan birthday/fundraiser for him attended by multiple donors connected to the favored casino bidder.
Sampson’s attendance at Somos could have proved awkward for Adams — who’s expected to attend the conference by week’s end after his overwhelming victory Tuesday to become New York’s 110th mayor.
Under the conditions of his supervised release, Sampson must obtain permission from the probation office or the judge to leave the Eastern District, which includes Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and Long Island. He was seen at Adams’ victory party at the Brooklyn Marriott Tuesday night, which would not have required a judicial sign-off.
Spotted at Eric Adams election night party: John Sampson pic.twitter.com/K3ZuDF33uu— David Freedlander (@freedlander) November 3, 2021
Reached by phone Wednesday, Sampson declined to discuss his intentions in seeking to attend the political gathering in Puerto Rico, stating only, “It was a request and the request was denied. I respect her decision. I just move on.”
He added: “Hopefully in the future I’ll be able to go places.”
Back in Business
Irizarry barred Sampson’s travel to Somos after he wrote to federal parole officials Friday seeking permission to attend the tropical conference as well as a speaking engagement at a Pennsylvania college.
He told the feds he would be speaking as an employee of Exodus Transitional Community, a nonprofit that helps people leaving prison transition back into society.
Exodus did not respond to THE CITY’s inquiry about Sampson’s work for the group, and Sampson declined to discuss that work when contacted by THE CITY, except to state: “I’ve been doing very well with my employer. I’ve been promoted twice.”
The judge, however, questioned whether Sampson’s “employment and rapid promotion at Exodus is appropriate” given some of the allegations federal prosecutors had leveled against him just a few years back.
Prosecutors charged that between 1998 and 2006, Sampson had stealthily embezzled $440,000 in escrow funds from Brooklyn foreclosure sales over which he was presiding as a court-appointed referee. Some of that money, they alleged, helped fund his failed run for Brooklyn district attorney in 2005.
Describing Sampson’s work for Exodus, Irizarry wrote, “While he allegedly is not involved in procuring contracts, he is seeking property for the program.” She declared that this “is completely related to his criminal conduct involving his misappropriation of funds as a referee for the state court in forfeiture proceedings.”
In April 2020, at the start of the pandemic, Exodus won an $835,000 “emergency” no-bid contract from Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office to manage an effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in city jails by moving detainees into hotels.
On its website, Exodus notes that it operates three hotels — two in Queens and one in Manhattan — with a capacity of 450 residents. On Wednesday Sampson was working for Exodus out of a boutique hotel in Brooklyn, the Tillary.
Early COVID Release
Since then, Exodus’ hotel contract has grown dramatically in size and scope, rising to $55.6 million. As of this week, $47 million has been spent, contract records on file with the city comptroller show.
The judge also questioned Sampson’s assertion that he began work at Exodus in August 2020 when the U.S. Bureau of Prisons lists him as being released from custody to begin parole this August, a year later.
Bureau of Prisons officials told THE CITY that in May 2020, Sampson was allowed to continue serving his sentence in home confinement as part of the bureau’s effort to free up space in prisons to stanch the spread of COVID-19. The BOP said Sampson was officially released from their custody Aug. 19, 2021.
Sampson told THE CITY he was able to start his work at Exodus under the supervision of the Bureau of Prisons while in home confinement.
In June before his victory in the Democratic primary for mayor, Adams defended his record in the Aqueduct probe, claiming that he followed all the proper protocols regarding reporting all the political contributions from the individuals associated with the politically connected casino bidder.
“I did what was supposed to be done and I’m proud of my transparent record. All of those documents were turned over. It was amazing how transparent I was. I was more transparent than anyone else because I was a transparent elected official and I’m going to continue to do so,” he stated.
On Wednesday Evan Thies, Adams’ campaign press secretary, did not respond to THE CITY’s inquiry about Sampson’s attempt to attend Somos.