MANHATTAN (CN) – The Second Circuit upheld the convictions Monday of John Sampson, the former Democratic leader of the New York Senate, and revived two embezzlement charges to boot.
Though he was convicted in 2015 of obstruction of justice and making false statements, several aspects of Sampson’s nine-count involved his work as a referee in Brooklyn foreclosure actions.
Sampson, who served several parts of Brooklyn in the state Legislature for 18 years before his conviction, carried out referee work in his capacity of a member of the New York state bar.
By the time of Sampson’s indictment in 2013, prosecutors said he had embezzled nearly half a million dollars from the escrow accounts he oversaw.
U.S. District Judge Dora Irizarry dismissed the embezzlement charges under the five-year statute of limitations, however, prompting the government to seek a reversal from the federal court of appeals.
Sampson meanwhile filed his own appeal to have his convictions overturned.
Now about 18 months into a five-year-prison sentence, the 53-year-old Sampson received separate defeats on Monday from the Second Circuit.
In one of the rulings, the panel of appellate judges said that the problem with Irizarry’s dismissal of the embezzlement counts was that she “made an implicit factual determination that” Sampson’s failure to remit surplus funds in 1998 and 2002 meant that he possessed the requisite fraudulent intent.
“We conclude that this pretrial factual finding constituted a premature adjudication as to the sufficiency of the government’s evidence and was thus improper at the Rule 12(b) stage,” U.S. Circuit Judge Debra Ann Livingston wrote for the panel.
Though this 40-page ruling also cites evidence that Sampson withdrew embezzled funds as recently as 2008, thus falling under the five-year limit, it’s not clear whether federal prosecutors will pursue another trial.
A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office said they are reviewing the decision.
The embezzlement charges involve two different foreclosures where Sampson opened escrow accounts for the extra funds at different banks than court orders specified. Prosecutors say that instead of remitting the funds to the Kings County Clerk, like he was supposed to do, Sampson slowly withdrew money from those accounts for himself.
“To be clear, on the record before us,” Livingston wrote, “we do not know if the government will be able to prove that Sampson completed the alleged embezzlements within the statute of limitations. But that fact alone is not enough to mandate dismissal of Sampson’s embezzlement counts.”
Prosecutors also accused Sampson of asking a businessman in Queens some years later to help him repay the money. Edul Ahmad wrote Sampson checks totaling $188,500. The government says Sampson did not repay Ahmad, instead using his position in the state Senate to grant Ahmad special favors.
“To prevent discovery of his embezzlement,” Livingston summarized, “Sampson allegedly made efforts to tamper with witnesses and provided false statements to federal law enforcement officials.”
When Ahmad got busted for mortgage fraud in 2011, Sampson allegedly used a contact at the U.S. Attorney’s Office to dig up information on potential witnesses in an effort to keep his own crime under wraps.
The Second Circuit’s other ruling on Sampson, which Livingston wrote as well, involved the senator’s lies to FBI agents in 2012 about the money Ahmad had loaned him and about his interest in a Brooklyn liquor store.
U.S. Circuit Judges Jose Cabranes and Susan Carney concurred with Livingston in both rulings.
Sampson’s lawyer, Nathaniel Ackerman of Dorsey & Whitney, declined to comment.