Philadelphia News & Search
NEWARK, N.J. – Two former allies of Gov. Christie were sentenced Wednesday to prison for their roles in the traffic-jamming lane closures that would morph into a scandal damaging the governor’s presidential ambitions.
Bill Baroni, 45, who was Christie’s top executive appointee at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey at the time of the September 2013 lane closures at the George Washington Bridge, was sentenced to a two-year term. Bridget Anne Kelly, 44, a former Christie deputy chief of staff, got 18 months.
“This is a sad day for the state of New Jersey,” and “certainly a sad day for you in particular, Mr. Baroni,” U.S. District Court Judge Susan D. Wigenton said, referring to the bridge scandal as “senseless political vendetta” and an “outrageous” display of abuse of power.
Baroni and Kelly were found guilty in November of misusing Port Authority resources in what prosecutors contended was a plot to create massive traffic at the bridge to punish the mayor of Fort Lee, who hadn’t endorsed the governor’s reelection.
The judge told Kelly, a single mother of four: “I don’t believe you are a victim, and I don’t believe you would allow yourself to be a victim.”
But “I do believe you got caught up in a culture and environment that lost its way,” Wigenton said.
Baroni told court he regretted “that I allowed myself to get caught up in this” and “let the people in Fort Lee down.”
“I was wrong and I am truly sorry, and I’ve waited three years to say that,” he said.
Wigenton faulted Baroni for lying to lawmakers by maintaining that the lane closures were a traffic study.
“It was clear the ‘one constituent rule’ was on display,” Wigenton said, in an apparent reference to pleasing Christie.
The judge told Baroni, a lawyer and a former state senator, that given his background, “it could be argued you were more culpable than Ms. Kelly.”
The political payback allegations — which erupted in January 2014 with the disclosure of Kelly’s “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee” email — engulfed Christie’s administration as the governor was preparing to launch what would be an unsuccessful presidential campaign.
On Wednesday, Christie, who has maintained he had no role in the lane closures, was headed to the White House after confirming that President Trump had named him to chair a commission targeting the opioid crisis.
Christie said Wednesday on NBC’S Today show that “it’s not my role, or anybody’s else’s role, other than the judge in that courtroom, to pass sentence on people who have committed crimes.”
During the trial, Kelly testified that Christie had approved a purported traffic study at the bridge. A third former Christie ally, Port Authority official David Wildstein, testified that he and Baroni had bragged to the governor about “tremendous” traffic while the lane closures were underway.
Wildstein, who pleaded guilty in the scandal in 2015, served as the government’s main witness in the trial of Baroni and Kelly. His sentencing has not been scheduled.
While Wildstein said the three had agreed not to return the calls of Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich to maximize the mayor’s punishment, Kelly and Baroni testified that Wildstein had told them the Port Authority would be conducting a traffic study.
Prosecutors accused Baroni and Kelly of perjury, which they said warranted an enhanced sentence. Defense attorneys had sought probation, objecting to the government’s arguments.
This article contains information from the Associated Press.
Philadelphia News & Search