Sampson arrest indicates corruption's reach in New York State

State Senator John Sampson charged with embezzlement and

State Senator John Sampson charged with embezzlement and obstruction of justice leaves Federal court in Brooklyn surrounded by media. (May 6, 2013) (Credit: Patrick E. McCarthy)

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, predictably, said all the right things Monday after yet another state lawmaker was arrested on corruption-related charges.

But it will take more than his slate of so-far stalled campaign reforms to make things right.

State Sen. John Sampson's arrest Monday was one more measure of the depth and width of corruption in New York State.

The federal indictment against him alleges that Sampson, an attorney, embezzled money to fund a primary run in 2005 for Brooklyn district attorney.

Sampson, the Senate's former minority leader, lost to district attorney Charles Hynes by 4 percentage points.

The alleged attempt to use stolen money to win the borough's top elected law enforcement post is as mind-boggling as it is nervy.

Years later, when Sampson, according to prosecutors, feared he would get caught, what allegedly did he do?

Federal prosecutors say he got money from a third party to try to pay back some of the embezzled funds from a real estate transaction. Then Sampson tried to get the third party to lie about the transaction. He also attempted to get information about the federal investigation from an employee in the U.S. attorney's office who since has been fired.

It seems so messy, so complicated, right down to the words -- courtesy of what the indictment called the "Sampson Wiretap" -- allegedly uttered by the state senator himself.

"From now on, our conversation is, 'I don't have no contacts. You don't know nothing,' " Sampson is quoted as telling an "associate."

"When we talk, that's how we talk," Sampson is quoted as saying.

A state senator allegedly caught on a wiretap coaching an "associate" to mimic characters out of an old gangster movie?

Oh, Albany!

Sampson's arrest followed last month's federal indictments of state Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-Queens) and Republican New York City Councilman Daniel Halloran, along with a string of Republican and suburban officials.

There were separate indictments against former state assemblymen Eric Stevenson and Nelson Castro, both Bronx Democrats. And last week came news that state Sen. Shirley Huntley (D-Queens) -- who had pleaded guilty to corruption charges earlier this year -- had secretly recorded seven elected officials, including another senator.

Meanwhile, two U.S. attorneys -- Loretta Lynch of the Eastern District in New York, which handled Monday's indictments, and Preet Bharara of Manhattan -- have ongoing corruption investigations.

As for the indictment against Sampson, "It made a bad situation worse," Cuomo said in a radio interview on "The Capitol Pressroom." "This does give us a moment of reform, an opportunity."

Some state lawmakers are resisting Cuomo's moves toward public financing, stronger anti-bribery laws and repeal of the Wilson-Pakula waiver that lets party leaders grant ballot access to non-party members.

He's also pushing tighter oversight of campaign finance regulations. Cuomo's plan is a start. But so far only one proposal has been forwarded to lawmakers. That means the public hasn't yet had a chance to evaluate the entire package -- which ought to include term limits.

As Cuomo said, there is urgency -- and opportunity. What's needed to restore the public trust is more than the usual window dressing.