Manhattan DA’s Probe Focusing on Role of David Samson’s Port Authority Assistant
By Lisa Brennan | April 14, 2014 2:30 am

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. has subpoenaed records involving Patrick O’Reilly, who was the chief assistant to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s top appointee on the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, according to a person familiar with the document requests.

Patrick O'Reilly

David Samson, the former chairman of the Port Authority’s Board of Commissioners, brought O’Reilly into the bi-state agency in 2011 from his own law firm, Wolff & Samson PC.

A former Port Authority official, who has not seen the subpoena, said O’Reilly met daily in an off-limits “war room” at the Port Authority’s Park Avenue South headquarters in Manhattan with two other Christie allies, Bill Baroni and David Wildstein. The war room was where the Christie appointees conducted politically sensitive business, such as a plan to raise tolls in 2011.

O’Reilly ensured Samson’s orders were carried out and kept Samson apprised of what was happening in the special 15th floor conference room, the former Port Authority official said.

Vance’s subpoena asks specific and apparently informed questions about Samson’s orders to O’Reilly, said the person familiar with the document requests.

The subpoena suggests the Manhattan DA is trying to connect the dots from Samson to the George Washington Bridge lane closings, the alleged threat to withhold Superstorm Sandy aid to Hoboken, N.J., over a real-estate development deal sought by a client of Samson’s law firm, and myriad other potential conflicts of interest between’s Samson’s official role at the Port Authority and his firm’s lucrative lobbying business.

The subpoena seeks information about specific point people Samson directed O’Reilly to contact on some of the agency’s highest profile projects, the person familiar with the subpoena said.

David Samson (Getty)

Three Manhattan DA’s office prosecutors, including General Counsel Benjamin Rosenberg, and a spokeswoman declined to comment to Main Justice last week on the probe or specifics of the subpoena.

Vance’s subpoena was first reported Friday night by The Wall Street Journal, which said it asked for information on the rebuilding of the World Trade Center site and various New Jersey development projects.

The focus on O’Reilly’s role has not been previously reported.

Vance, according to the subpoena, is looking for state criminal law violations arising from the State Code of Ethics, under which actual conflicts of interest can be charged as criminal fraud, said the person familiar with the document request.

It remains unclear how Vance’s inquiry would affect the three-month-old probe by New Jersey U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, which picked up steam recently as Wildstein, Christie’s former Port Authority director of interstate capital projects, began proffer sessions with prosecutors, and a federal grand jury in Newark called its first witnesses. O’Reilly’s name has not surfaced before, and it’s not known whether Fishman is examining O’Reilly’s role in Samson’s dealings as Port Authority chairman.

As a former New Jersey Transit executive and lawyer-lobbyist at Wolff & Samson, O’Reilly would have been positioned to work different sides of Samson’s operations. He played pivotal roles over a number of years, not only at the Port Authority, but in the administration of former Gov. Jim McGreevey (D), where Samson served a year as state attorney general and O’Reilly was a top aid to the governor’s chief of staff, Jamie Fox. At New Jersey Transit, O’Reilly served as director of operations coordination and policy in the Office of the Executive Director, and manager of lease negotiation and compliance in the Real Estate Department. He rejoined Wolff & Samson’s lobbying practice earlier this year.

O’Reilly did not immediately return email and voice messages Sunday.

What is known: Samson’s law firm won a secret agreement from New Jersey Transit to build a light rail station in a favorable location for Samson’s client, The Rockefeller Group. The rail station would serve several blocks in Hoboken that the Manhattan-based real estate developer wanted to develop. The deal drew scrutiny from Fishman’s office in January after Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer alleged that Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno threatened to withhold Sandy aid if Zimmer didn’t approve the development project.

Records later showed that New Jersey Transit, under Christie’s control, agreed to pay for much of the cost of the station. The non-binding pact said New Jersey Transit would pay for “construction and construction coordination of the new [Hudson Bergen Light Rail] station and associated on-site improvements.” The document was released under New Jersey’s Open Public Records Act.

Zimmer wasn’t told of the secret funding arrangement; her office had to file a records request to obtain the memorandum of understanding. “What’s surprising to me is that New Jersey Transit entered into this agreement with one property owner, one developer, without talking to the city at all, without talking to other property owners,” Zimmer told WNYC’s Andrea Bernstein, who broke the story.

Another Wolff & Samson lobbyist, Lori Grifa, negotiated on behalf of The Rockefeller Group shortly after she left a top appointment in the Christie administration.

The Manhattan DA’s involvement in matters that are already under investigation by Fishman’s office may change the dynamic of the New Jersey federal investigation. If Vance’s supports Zimmer’s allegations about pressure to approve The Rockefeller Group deal, Fishman could have evidence to charge a crime under the federal honest services fraud statute, according to a lawyer familiar with both probes.

The honest services fraud statue–which makes it a crime to “deprive another of the intangible right of honest service”–has been used frequently to prosecute public corruption cases. But in 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court narrowed the statute to require that prosecutors prove that some kind of quid pro quo, such as a bribe or kickback, had been offered in return for an official action.

That quid pro quo could be Samson’s law firm getting paid by its client, The Rockefeller Group, if Hoboken approved the development project. Christie theoretically could be charged as a co-conspirator if it was shown he enlisted Guadagno in passing along the alleged threat.

Columbia Law Professor Daniel Richman said he doesn’t expect the two probes to interfere with one another.  “There’s enough corruption to go around,” said Richman, a former federal prosecutor in the Southern District of New York who teaches criminal law and procedure. He said different crimes could possibly be charged under state and federal statutes, but added: “If Cy Vance is looking at this, it would be odd for a witness or potential witness to cooperate with the state probe without first making peace with feds.”

Samson did not step down from his Port Authority chairmanship until March 28, long after Wildstein and Baroni departed, and questions about his role in Port Authority operations remain unanswered. Christie repeatedly expressed his support for Samson. Their relationship dates to the early days of Christie’s career as U.S. Attorney, and Christie has often referred to Samson, who helped run Christie’s re-election campaign, as a “mentor.”

Samson declined to speak to investigators for the 360-page report by Christie’s lawyers at Gibson Dunn & Crutcher. O’Reilly’s name appears nowhere in the report.

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