United Airlines CEO steps down after Port Authority probe

Willie Grace | 9/9/2015, 6 a.m.
Jeff Smisek, the company's CEO and chairman, stepped down "in connection with the company's previously disclosed internal investigation related to ...
United Airlines at Chicago O'hare International Airport

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- United Continental's CEO and two other top executives are out following a company investigation related to an ongoing federal probe.

Jeff Smisek, the company's CEO and chairman, stepped down "in connection with the company's previously disclosed internal investigation related to the federal investigation associated with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey," the company said in a statement Tuesday.

United said it is cooperating with the government probes.

Smisek will walk away with a $4.8 million "separation payment," according to a public filing from the company. He was paid $12.7 million in 2014.

United disclosed in February that a federal grand jury had subpoenaed information from its executive officers. The subpoenas requested records and testimony related to individuals formerly associated with the Port Authority.

The federal probe connected to the ousters of the executives is an outgrowth of the Chris Christie "Bridgegate" investigation, according to U.S. law enforcement officials.

Both the FBI and U.S. Attorney's Office in Newark, New Jersey, have been investigating David Samson, the former chairman of the Port Authority.

Among the allegations being investigated by the government are that Samson used his position to get United to start a flight from Newark to South Carolina -- which was convenient to a home he owned.

United allegedly agreed to the request to curry favor with Samson and the Port Authority.

The Port Authority, an agency of New York and New Jersey, operates major public transportation routes in the two states including Newark Airport, a United hub.

According to federal law enforcement officials, United paid for an internal investigation that led to the ouster of the United executives.

Samson, an ally of Christie, stepped down from the Port Authority in March 2014 amid fallout over Bridgegate.

Critics said aides for Christie -- now a contender for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination -- ordered the closure of George Washington Bridge lanes as retribution against a Democrat who didn't endorse Christie's reelection as governor in 2013.

United said Oscar Munoz, who headed the transportation company CSX Corporation, will replace Smisek as the company's president and CEO, and a public filing submitted Tuesday said the terms of his compensation "have not yet been finalized."

During a conference call Tuesday, analysts asked how the new leadership will deal with turmoil at the company -- citing concerns about employee morale and public image following a computer problem that grounded United flights worldwide for a day July.

But Munoz did not answer specific questions about how he would address technology issues.

CSX is primarily involved in railroad shipping. Munoz said he is well-equipped for his new job because the railroad industry "has a lot of parallels," including heavy government oversight and an organized labor force.

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