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NY state senator charged with stealing funds for failed campaign

New York State Senator and former Minority Leader John Sampson is shown in this undated handout provided by nysenate.gov May 6, 2013. REUTER
New York State Senator and former Minority Leader John Sampson is shown in this undated handout provided by nysenate.gov May 6, 2013. REUTER

By Jessica Dye

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A New York state senator from Brooklyn was charged on Monday with stealing proceeds from sales of foreclosed properties to finance a failed run for district attorney, prosecutors said, making him the state's latest politician to face federal criminal charges.

John Sampson, 47, a Democrat who has represented southeastern Brooklyn since 1997, was charged with nine counts including embezzlement, obstruction of justice and making false statements to federal investigators, according to an indictment unsealed Monday.

Sampson, a practicing attorney for more than two decades, turned himself in and was arraigned in Brooklyn federal court Monday afternoon. He pleaded not guilty, and was released on a $250,000 bond.

In April, U.S. attorney Preet Bharara in Manhattan charged state Senator Malcolm Smith with attempting to buy a spot on New York City's mayoral ballot. Several days later, Assemblyman Eric Stevenson was charged in an alleged bribery scheme.

Loretta Lynch, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said at a press conference that Sampson abused the public trust to further his own political ambitions "in one of the most extreme examples of political hubris we've yet seen."

According to the indictment, Sampson served as a court-appointed referee in foreclosure proceedings in Brooklyn state court beginning in the late 1990s. In that position, he helped oversee sales of foreclosed properties and controlled escrow accounts containing proceeds from those sales.

Lynch alleged that Sampson embezzled $440,000 from escrow accounts in at least four properties in Brooklyn between 1998 and 2008. Prosecutors said he used the money to help pay expenses for his unsuccessful 2005 bid to unseat incumbent Brooklyn district attorney Charles Hynes in the Democratic primary.

Hynes narrowly edged Sampson that year to win a fifth term.

Sampson later borrowed money from an unnamed associate in the real-estate industry to help repay some of the stolen money, prosecutors said. They said that when that associate was charged with a mortgage-fraud scheme in 2011, Sampson tried to keep him from cooperating with authorities, and later solicited an unnamed administrative employee in the Brooklyn federal prosecutor's office to give him information about that case.

If convicted, Sampson faces up to 10 years on each of the two embezzlement counts, 10 years on one count of obstruction of justice, 20 years on four separate obstruction-of-justice charges and up to five years on two counts of lying to federal agents.

Prosecutors said that they have proposed a plea deal that would recommend Sampson receive a sentence of between 37 and 46 months in prison, in exchange for Sampson pleading guilty to one count of embezzlement and one count of obstruction of justice.

Sampson's next court appearance is scheduled for June 18.

(Reporting by Jessica Dye; Editing by Paul Thomasch, Bernard Orr and David Gregorio)

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