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State Sen. John Sampson found guilty of obstruction, lying to FBI

New York State Sen. John Sampson, center, exits

New York State Sen. John Sampson, center, exits Brooklyn Federal Court on Wednesday, June 24, 2015. Credit: Charles Eckert

One-time Albany power broker Sen. John Sampson on Friday became the latest state legislator to forfeit his office after being convicted in a Brooklyn federal corruption trial of trying to cover up his embezzlement from escrow accounts, and lying to the FBI.

Sampson, a Brooklyn Democrat elected in 1996, faces up to 20 years in prison after being found guilty of obstructing justice and two counts of lying to the FBI. He was acquitted of conspiracy, witness and evidence tampering, concealing records and one count of lying to the FBI.

Jury forewoman Kim O'Meally of Nassau County told reporters the mixed verdict was the result of jurors disbelieving Edul Ahmad, a crooked mortgage broker who taped Sampson as an informant, and accepting defense claims that the government lured the senator to commit crimes he would not otherwise have committed.

"Listening to the tapes, Ahmad getting him to say things he didn't want to say, we felt he was entrapped," said O'Meally, who called the government cooperator "dirty."

The mixed verdict represented another ethical black mark for Albany, where more than a dozen legislators have been convicted or charged since 2010 and both Assemb. Sheldon Silver and Sen. Dean Skelos lost their leadership posts this year due to corruption charges.

Sampson, 50, had a brief moment of hope, dropping his head in relief when he was acquitted on the first count of conspiracy, only to look up when O'Meally said "guilty" on the second count. His lawyer later said none of the charges involved misconduct in office, and Sampson would seek to overturn the convictions.

Prosecutors failed to persuade U.S. District Judge Dora Irizarry to immediately take Sampson into custody, arguing that he had flouted the law by using his Senate official-business placard to park in a no-parking zone during the trial.

They said he would face a likely sentence of more than 10 years under federal sentencing guidelines. A sentencing date has not been set. "He will now be held accountable," Acting U.S. Attorney Kelly Currie said in a statement.

Sampson allegedly skimmed $188,500 from escrow funds he oversaw as a court-appointed referee in foreclosure sales, and then used the money to finance an unsuccessful run for district attorney in Brooklyn in 2005.

Although Irizarry knocked those charges out of the case, ruling that they fell outside the statute of limitations, prosecutors said Sampson borrowed money from Ahmad to repay the escrow funds and obstructed justice to keep Ahmad from talking when he came under scrutiny in a federal probe.

Ahmad recorded Sampson urging him not to disclose a subpoenaed check register documenting the loan. A video played at trial showed Sampson taking the check register and tucking it in his pocket, and a childhood friend who worked for federal prosecutors testified that Sampson recruited him as a mole.

Jurors acquitted him of lying to the FBI about recruiting the friend, and tampering and concealment charges relating to the check register, but convicted him of lying to the FBI about the check register.

Prosecutors have said they may appeal Irizarry's ruling dismissing embezzlement charges and potentially try him on those counts in the future.

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