NEWARK, N.J. — Two former aides to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie are scheduled to be sentenced Wednesday for their roles in the 2013 George Washington Bridge lane-closing scandal.
Bridget Kelly and Bill Baroni were convicted last November on counts including wire fraud, conspiracy and misusing the bridge for improper purposes.
The government’s star witness, David Wildstein, testified that he and the co-defendants plotted to cause gridlock to retaliate against the Democratic mayor of nearby Fort Lee for not endorsing the Republican Christie’s re-election.
Baroni and Kelly face 37 to 46 months in prison under federal sentencing guidelines, although both have filed briefs arguing that they should receive some combination of probation, home confinement and community service.
Prosecutors urged U.S. District Judge Susan Wigenton not to show leniency because, in their words, Kelly and Baroni provided “flagrantly false testimony” during the trial.
The scandal derailed Christie’s presidential aspirations and likely cost him a chance to be then-GOP nominee Donald Trump’s running mate.
Questions remain over when, and how much, Christie knew about the plan to realign access lanes from Fort Lee to the bridge’s upper level. The bi-level bridge is considered the busiest in the country.
Fort Lee was plunged into gridlock for four days in September 2013. Text messages and emails produced at trial showed Mayor Mark Sokolich’s increasingly desperate pleas for help being ignored by Kelly and Baroni.
They testified that the “radio silence” treatment was ordered by Wildstein, a former political blogger and classmate of Christie’s who was hired as the director of interstate capital projects at the powerful Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the bridge. The position was created for Wildstein, according to testimony.
At the time of the traffic jams, Kelly was Christie’s deputy chief of staff and Baroni was his appointee to the Port Authority, overseeing Wildstein as deputy executive director. Baroni testified that Wildstein was viewed as Christie’s enforcer, and several Port Authority officials testified that he was almost universally disliked at the agency.
Christie was not charged with any wrongdoing. But his version of events — that he was not aware that anyone in his office was involved until months after the fact — was contradicted by testimony from the defendants and Wildstein.
In addition to focusing on dozens of text messages and emails exchanged between the co-conspirators — including Kelly’s infamous “time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee” email — testimony at the trial painted an unflattering portrait of the Christie administration’s modus operandi.
Christie was described cursing and throwing a water bottle at Kelly over an apparently innocent question, and another time leaving a profane and threatening voicemail for a county officeholder who had angered him.
Wildstein testified that Christie’s subordinates used the Port Authority, the powerful bi-state agency that oversees huge chunks of New York’s transportation and commerce infrastructure, as a source of political favors for Democratic politicians whose endorsements he sought.