Childhood Friendship Put to Test in Public Corruption Case

NEW YORK (AP) -

When a once-powerful New York politician became suspicious he was the target of a corruption probe, authorities say he came up with an outlandish way to get answers: He convinced a longtime friend who worked as a paralegal to try to leak him the names of cooperating witnesses.

Prosecutors at the ongoing trial of Sen. John Sampson argue his attempt to exploit the friendship and develop a mole demonstrated the extremes to which he would go to avoid getting caught. The senator succeeded only in upending the life of paralegal Samuel Noel and severing the pair’s relationship — an outcome described by Noel while testifying for the government.

“I was totally hurt, crushed,” Noel said on Thursday when asked about being confronted by investigators about his role in an attempted cover-up of an alleged embezzlement scheme.

Sampson, 50, who was re-elected last year, has pleaded not guilty to witness tampering and obstruction of justice. The federal case has relied largely on the testimony of a broker, Edul Ahmad, who told jurors that before he began cooperating, the senator was already beginning to distrust those around him.

“One night he came to my office very late, and he told me that if he ever found out who the cooperators were, he would take them out,” Ahmad said.

Noel, 47, took the witness stand on Thursday, describing how he had met Sampson while growing up in Brooklyn and struck up a friendship spanning decades. He testified that when Sampson came to him in 2011 and asked him to use his inside access as an employee at the U.S. attorney’s office to provide information about the mortgage fraud investigation, he obliged.

“I was really concerned about his situation,” he said.

He recalled checking a confidential database and coming up empty. He said he went to Sampson and told him, “John, I got nothing.”

Even after Sampson learned Noel’s misdeeds were exposed and he was fired, he visited him at his home to ask whether he knew if the senator’s phones were tapped. Noel said he didn’t know.

“We still gave each the ‘bro hug,’” Noel said. And even though they haven’t spoken since, he added, “I love him like a brother.”