Two former aides to Governor. Chris Christie have been sentenced to prison for creating a colossal traffic jam at the George Washington Bridge for political revenge, a scandal that sank Mr Christie's White House campaign and was attributed by the judge to a venomous climate inside state government.
Bill Baroni, Mr Christie's appointee to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, was sentenced to two years in prison, and Bridget Kelly, Mr Christie's former deputy chief of staff, was sentenced to 18 months at separate hearings in the 2013 lane-closing case. Both must also serve 500 hours of community service.
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 Mr Christie's re-election. 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.
“I let a lot of people down who believed in me and relied on me. Most of all I let Mark Sokolich down. That was my choice and my responsibility. And I made the wrong choice,” Baroni told US Judge Susan Wigenton before she sentenced him.
“I was wrong and I am truly sorry, and I've waited three years to say that.”
Judge Wigenton said Baroni misled a state legislative committee when he said the traffic study was legitimate, and later misled the jury at his trial with the same contention.
“It was completely intended to wreak havoc,” she said. “It only served a punitive purpose. You clearly knew, and know today, that it was not” legitimate.
Assistant US Attorney Lee Cortes said that Baroni's time as a state legislator, lawyer and school teacher gave him the experience and judgement to conduct himself ethically.
“But when Bill Baroni was put to the test and made a choice, he chose to abuse his official power. And then he chose to lie about it,” Mr Cortes said, calling Baroni's conduct “brazen, calculated, and a mean-spirited abuse of power” that had “real-life consequences on the people he was supposed to serve.”
The scandal derailed Mr Christie's presidential aspirations and likely cost him a chance to be President Donald Trump's running mate. While the sentencing was happening on Wednesday, Mr Christie was at the White House to launch a drug addiction task force.
Questions remain over when, and how much, Mr 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.
At the time of the traffic jams, Kelly was Mr Christie's deputy chief of staff and Baroni was his appointee to the Port Authority, overseeing Mr Wildstein as deputy executive director. Baroni testified that Mr Wildstein was viewed as Mr Christie's enforcer, and several Port Authority officials testified that he was almost universally disliked at the agency.
Mr Wildstein, a former political blogger and classmate of Mr Christie's, 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.
Mr 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 Baroni, Kelly and Mr 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.
Mr Wildstein testified that Mr Christie's subordinates used the Port Authority, the bistate agency that oversees huge chunks of New York's transportation and commerce infrastructure, as a source of political favours for Democratic politicians whose endorsements he sought.
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