In a tense 2012 meeting at a Howard Beach Italian restaurant, state Sen. John Sampson gave an associate cryptic instructions to withhold subpoenaed evidence from investigators but not lie if asked about it, according to a secret recording played Tuesday at Sampson's corruption trial.

Sampson, who had allegedly received a $188,500 loan in 2006 from Queens real estate agent Edul Ahmad to replace embezzled funds, was told by Ahmad that his check register had been subpoenaed and was shown the page recording the Sampson transaction. Ahmad was wearing a wire.

Sampson, suspicious that Ahmad might be setting him up for prosecutors but unsure, tried to hedge his advice -- urging Ahmad to remove the transaction from his records in whispers, but raising his voice when urging his friend to tell the truth, Ahmad testified.

StoryWitness: Pol threatened to 'take out' informantsStoryFormer friend testifies Sampson tried to hide loanStoryJury selection begins for trial of ex-senator

"Don't say you don't have it. Just say you don't know. I don't want you to lie. Just say you don't know," Sampson said during the 45-minute "I don't want you to lie. Say, 'I don't know. This is all I have. That's it.' "

Sampson, 47, a former Democratic leader, is accused in Brooklyn federal court of witness tampering, obstruction of justice, recruiting a mole in the prosecutor's office and lying to the FBI to try to cover up his embezzlement while serving as a court-appointed foreclosure referee.

During the meeting Sampson urged Ahmad to remove multiple pages from the check register so no particular check would stand out as missing, and held on to the page recording his loan, which he believed was the only copy, Ahmad testified.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

"By saying I don't have it, am I lying or not?" Ahmad asked at one point. "I don't know."

"No," Sampson answered. "You don't have it."

The two also discussed ways to explain the loan, which was never repaid. But a month later, as the investigation closed in, Ahmad testified, a frazzled Sampson visited his office one night, insisted on speaking in the bathroom with the fan on, and made a repayment offer.

"He said that he's got some money and any time I need it I can have it," Ahmad recalled.

The trial resumes Wednesday.