A pair of decisions Monday from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit kept the conviction of former New York state Sen. John Sampson for obstruction of justice and lying to federal agents in place, while giving the office of the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York another crack at previously dismissed embezzlement charges.
The panel of Circuit Judges José Cabranes, Debra Ann Livingston and Susan Carney ruled in the first suit—an appeal by Sampson following his 2015 conviction—that the six arguments raised failed on their merits.
On the obstruction charges, Sampson argued he was improperly prosecuted for witness tampering while insufficient evidence was presented to support his false statement conviction. The court committed reversible error on both while prejudicing Sampson by unfairly allowing evidence of alleged bribes, the former state senator said. Finally, Sampson argued the sentence was unreasonable.
The panel also engaged in a discussion over a split with the eight other circuits regarding case history around the statute the government brought its obstruction of justice charges under. The case law bars the government from prosecuting full-fledged threats as such. Because Sampson’s intent in acquiring confidential information was to tamper with a witness, the panel found the government was able to bring obstruction charges under the statute.
On one count, the panel also upheld the false statement conviction, as the jury had ample evidence presented to it that showed Sampson had attempted to deceive a federal agent. It also found U.S. District Chief Judge Dora Irizarry of the Eastern District of New York did not abuse her discretion in refusing to allow Sampson to introduce evidence at trial.
In a separate decision, the same panel addressed an appeal by the Eastern District after Irizarry dismissed the embezzlement counts against Sampson, agreeing that the allegations were time-barred, as the crime was “complete” for the court’s purpose long before the government brought charges.
The panel noted that embezzlement can’t be considered “complete” until the property is fraudulently converted. The government argued at the time the chief judge’s determination was coming before it had offered up all its evidence. In effect, the panel found, Irizarry granted summary judgment to Sampson not available in the criminal context.
“Judges can, of course, make factual determinations in matters that do not implicate the general issue of a defendant’s guilt …,” the panel wrote. “But when a defense raises a factual dispute that is inextricably intertwined with a defendant’s potential culpability, a judge cannot resolve that dispute on a Rule 12(b) motion.”
A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office said prosecutors were reviewing the panel’s decisions.
Dorsey & Whitney partner Nick Akerman and of counsel Joshua Colangelo-Bryan handled Sampson’s appeal efforts. Akerman declined to comment while Colangelo-Bryan did not respond to a request for comment.