A member of Governor-elect Phil Murphy’s transition team is an executive at United Airlines who was involved in discussions over the “chairman’s flight,” Observer has learned.
Monica Slater Stokes is among more than 30 advisers on the transportation and infrastructure committee in Murphy’s transition team. She is managing director of corporate and government affairs for the Eastern region at United, meaning she is the airline’s top lobbyist in New Jersey.
The chairman’s flight is one of the more ridiculous and sordid episodes of corruption in recent New Jersey history. The former chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, David Samson, pleaded guilty in 2016 to shaking down United Airlines for a shorter commute to his weekend home. (The Port Authority runs Newark Airport, where United has a large presence.)
Samson, a former state attorney general who was appointed to the Port Authority by Gov. Chris Christie, pushed United to revive a money-losing flight route from Newark to Columbia, S.C., at a time when the airline was in discussions with the Port Authority over hangar space in Newark. Samson owns a somewhat garish house in nearby Aiken, S.C., where he is now serving a home-confinement sentence for a few more months. Before he was caught, he would gloat to others about taking “the chairman’s flight” to South Carolina.
The gears were set in motion at a dinner in New York City on Sept. 13, 2011, according to a criminal information prosecutors filed detailing Samson’s scheme.
The attendees were Samson; Bill Baroni, who was then the Port Authority deputy executive director and is now a Bridgegate convict; and New Jersey lobbyist Jamie Fox, who died while under indictment over the chairman’s flight. Jeff Smisek, then United’s chief executive, also attended, as did three other top airline executives — Mark Anderson, Nene Foxhall and Slater Stokes.
Slater Stokes was the only United executive at that meeting who was not fired over the chairman’s flight. She also was not charged with wrongdoing by authorities.
“During this September 13, 2011 meeting, after discussion of certain of United’s priorities for Newark Airport, defendant Samson stated that Continental used to have a non-stop route between Newark Airport and Columbia Airport and asked United Employee 1 [Smisek] to consider reinstating that non-stop route,” prosecutors wrote. Smisek “responded that United generally stopped flying routes because they were not profitable, but told defendant Samson that United would look into the Newark/Columbia route.”
Samson kept pressing the South Carolina flight to Fox, who in turn would press United officials including Slater Stokes, according to the criminal information. Slater Stokes is United Employee 3 in that document.
“Need to come up with some spin on the South Carolina flight Samson asked about,” Fox emailed Slater Stokes a week after the dinner. “Having dinner with him next week and he asked in jest—I think—that he hoped that I had good news on the flight.”
Slater Stokes consulted other United employees about the flight route, and they advised her that it was not profitable for Continental before United merged with that airline. Slater Stokes then forwarded that response to Anderson and Foxhall. “This is response to Samson’s question about EWRCAE (Columbia, SC) flight. I will convey to [Fox], who will directly handle follow up on this,” she wrote in an email, according to Samson’s criminal information.
Nearly a month later, on Oct. 18, 2011, Fox followed up with Slater Stokes again in a phone call that lasted approximately two minutes. “They turned Samson flight down,” Fox wrote in an email to a colleague at his company after the call. “That is stupid.”
Samson then began to play hardball with United and took his demands up the chain of command. United eventually relented and agreed to revive the Newark-to-Columbia flight.
A spokesman for Murphy’s transition team declined to comment on Slater Stokes. United Airlines did not respond to a request for comment.