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Wall Street Journal / News - Politics

Lawyers Appeal Former N.Y. State Sen. John Sampson’s Conviction

Lawyers for former New York state Sen. John Sampson argued to a federal appeals court that his public-corruption conviction should be overturned and his prison sentence was unreasonable.
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Corinne Ramey

Lawyers for former New York state Sen. John Sampson argued to a federal appeals court Thursday that his public-corruption conviction should be overturned and his prison sentence was unreasonable.

Mr. Sampson, a Democrat who represented Brooklyn neighborhoods including East New York and Canarsie, was convicted of obstruction of justice and lying to investigators in 2015. Prosecutors said he sought to cover up the more than $400,000 he embezzled from foreclosure accounts. He used these funds to pay for his unsuccessful 2005 bid for Brooklyn district attorney, according to prosecutors.

Mr. Sampson, 52 years old, was also indicted on embezzlement charges, but the trial judge ruled these occurred beyond the statute of limitations. The government is appealing this ruling.

Earlier this year, Mr. Sampson, who previously served as Senate minority leader and chairman of the Senate’s ethics committee, was sentenced to five years in prison and is now incarcerated in Cumberland County, N.J. Outside the courtroom Thursday, his lawyer said Mr. Sampson “was hoping for an appropriate result on this appeal.”

On Thursday, a three-member panel of judges from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit heard the government’s appeal of the dismissal of the embezzlement charges and Mr. Sampson’s lawyers’ appeal of his conviction. A lawyer for Mr. Sampson argued the government didn’t provide sufficient evidence Mr. Sampson intended to deceive, so couldn’t be convicted of obstruction of justice.

“The fact is, they charged the wrong crime,” said his lawyer Nick Akerman.

Paul Tuchmann, a lawyer for the government, argued the government had proved the obstruction of justice charge and that Mr. Sampson was convicted of trying to obtain law-enforcement information about a cooperating witness.

Among other issues raised in court documents was bribery. Mr. Sampson’s lawyers wrote that the government repeatedly argued Mr. Sampson committed bribery, but said the crime’s definition had changed since his trial.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling last year in the case of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Republican, narrowed the definition of bribery, raising the bar for what counts as an official government action.

“The government’s proof also unquestionably failed to show Sampson performed an official act pursuant to McDonnell as part of an illegal exchange,” defense lawyers wrote in court documents.

The appeals court that heard Mr. Sampson’s case vacated the convictions of two other New York lawmakers, Dean Skelos, a Long Island Republican, and Sheldon Silver, a Manhattan Democrat. Federal prosecutors have said they would retry both cases.

Write to Corinne Ramey at Corinne.Ramey@wsj.com

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