Between 1969 and 1975. General Services Administration official Arthur F. Sampson approved tens of millions of dollars in GSA leases of buildings being constructed here by Arlington developers Peter, Paul and Louis Pomponio, sometimes without requiring the Pomponios to comply with GSA regulations followed by other developers.
Last year, after resigning as GSA administrator in 1975, Sampson received from the Pomponios, for only a "token" payment, an undisclosed amount of stock in a firm the Pomponios formed to make and sell pre-stressed concrete.
"They (the Pomponios) were forming a company called Universal Structures, and they wanted me to be a part of it, so I agreed," Sampson said. Asked if he had gotten the stock free, Sampson said, "I paid a very small amount fo rit."
The company, which shared a telephone number with the Pomponios' real estate firm, never started operations, apparently because the Pomponio brothers began serving federal prison tems this year, Peter and Paul for tax fraud and Louise Jr. for bribery.
During the Pomponios' 1974 trial, prosecutors said the developers built their empire by shifting assets from one property to another. They depended financially, according to the government, on bank loans approved by a bank officer who accepted bribes from the Pomponios, and on the federal leases approved by Sampson.
Sampson, who described the Pomponios as "very good people," acknowledged they had already been convicted when they offered him the stock in their company. However, he said they assured him that their convictions would be overturned on appeal.
When asked whether he had any understanding with the Pomponios that they would help him financially if he approved the federal leases of their buildings. Sampson told a reporter, "You stink."
He said the leases he awarded must have compiled with GSA regulations because the technicalities were approved by other GSA officials.
Sampson is now employed as president of a coal by-product company owned by Washington developer and surgeon Laszlo N. Tauber and New Jersey lawyer Arthur S. Lowell. While he was still GSA administrator. Sampson awarded a $2.5 million-a-year lease in 1975 for a large office building Tauber built on Buzzard Point in Southwest Washington.
At the time, Tauber's price for leasing the building was higher per square foot than that of his nearest competitor.
However, after Lowell, a friend of Sampson, met with him on Tauber's behalf, Sampson, as GSA administrator, asked for a list of all the lease bids, an action considered unusual by GSA leasing officials. GSA regulations prohbit disclosure of such bids outside the agency.
Three weeks later, Tauber won the lease award by lowering his offer to a price 2 percent below that of his nearest competitor.
After Tauber was awarded the lease, he allowed Lowell to become an owner of the building at a lower price than that paid by most other investors.
Lowell is currently being investigated by GSA's ofice of investigations in connection with Art Metal-USA Inc., a firm that has been selling GSA metal desks and file cabinets that often come with tops and finishes that quickly peel or rust and locks and drawers that don't work.
At the time when GSA was leasing buildings from the Pomponios, it required all bidders who sought to rent space in new buildings to the federal government to comply with five conditions - known as the "five points" - to demonstrate that the buildings were, in fact, about to be constructed, whether or not GSA leased space in them.
These conditions, which were spelled out in GSA's public requests for bids, required potential landlords to own the land they proposed to build on and to have a building permit covering the entire building, construction financing, a complete building design and a construction contract. Under GSA regulations, bidders were to be disqualified if they failed to meet any one of these conditions.
However, a review of GSA files shows that it awarded a 20-year. $2.4 million-a-year lease to the Pomponios for space in the Patrick Henry Building at 601 D St. NW even though the permits submitted to GSA gave approval only to clear the site and erect a fence. "NO excavation for proposed new building authorized," one of the permits clearly states.
In another instance, the GSA files show the Pomponios gave GSA an unasigned piece of paper headed "Building Permit" to show they had complied with the five points in their offer to lease the Zachary Taylor Building in Crystal City. Excavation, the Pomponio brothers claimed in a letter, is "90 percent complete."
However, according to Arlington County authorities, no building permit was issued until several months after Pomponios submitted their five-point documentation. This was after GSA had already awarded them a 20-year lease at $1.5 million a year. An excavation was 90 percent complete.
Asked about this. Sampson said that, although he gave final approval to leasdes signed with the Pomponios. "As far as I was concerned, if they [lower-level GSA employes] signed off, it was okay."
D.C. corporation records show that Universal Structures Inc. was formed in 1976 to make and sell prestressed concrete. It directors were Louis Pomponio Sr., the Pomponios' father, Rocco V. Tricarico, their architect, and one of their employes.
Several months later, Universal Structures Co. Inc. of Tidewater, Va., was formed as a Virginia corporation. Its directors were Sampson, who ws then president of San-Vel Concrete Corp. in Littleton, Mass., Tricarico, and Peter K. Babalas, a Virginia state senator from Norfolk.
Tricarico did not return telephone calls placed to his home nd office.
Babalas said he had been asked by Tricarico if he wanted to become involved with the company. "I was acting as a potential investor," he said. He said he was not aware the Pomponios were also owners.
By 1972, the Pomponios' empire, Valued at more than $100 million, had begun to crumble as the brothers came under investigation for alleged income tax evasion and nonpayment of property taxes. They filed for reorganization under the bankruptcy laws, delaying construction of several buildings that had been leased to GSA for federal offices before they had been built.
When Sidney M. Zneimer, who admitted receiving $320,000 in cash, gifts and services from the Pomponios, resigned as a vice president of a New York bank after it was acquired by Security National Bank, the Pomponios "ran out of tomorrows," then U.S. Attorney Brian P. Gettings later told a federal jury in Alexandria.
During one of the Pomponios' trials, U.S. District Court Judge Albert V. Bryan reprimanded Sampson who was then GSA administrator for "improper interference with the judiciary" after he sent a letter on GSA's letterhead to the judge asking for a lighter sentence for Louis Pomponio Jr.
In the letter, Sampson described Pomponio as a "man of integrity" who had "demonstrated devotion to his country" in GSA lease transactions.