Ex-Christie Aides Sentenced to Prison 03/30 06:23
NEWARK, N.J. (AP) -- Two former aides to Republican Gov. Chris Christie were
sentenced to prison on Wednesday for creating a colossal traffic jam at the
George Washington Bridge for political revenge, a scandal that sank Christie's
White House campaign and was attributed by the judge to a venomous climate
inside state government.
Bill Baroni, Christie's appointee to the Port Authority of New York and New
Jersey, was sentenced to two years in prison, and Bridget Kelly, 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
U.S. District Judge Susan Wigenton said it was clear there was never a
legitimate traffic study, as they claimed during the trial, and said the
defendants sought to mislead the jury with their testimony.
During Kelly's portion of the hearing, Wigenton also blamed the culture in
Trenton, the state capital. Trial testimony described angry tirades by the
governor and detailed his subordinates using the Port Authority as a source of
political favors for politicians whose endorsements they sought.
Christie was not charged with any wrongdoing in the federal case. State
prosecutors have declined to pursue a citizen's criminal complaint lodged
against him, but questions remain over how much he knew about the plot.
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 scandal derailed Christie's presidential aspirations and likely cost him
a chance to be Donald Trump's running mate. Christie has turned his attention
in his final year in office to addressing the state's opioid epidemic, and on
Wednesday he was at the White House, where a
-to-combat-nation's-opioid-addiction'he was selected to lead a drug addiction
The target of the traffic jams, Democratic Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, had
declined to endorse Christie for re-election in 2013. It was his town near the
bridge that suffered four days of paralyzing gridlock when access lanes were
The judge told the 45-year-old Baroni the traffic was "intended to wreak
"It only served a punitive purpose," the judge said. "You clearly knew, and
know today, that it was not" legitimate.
Referring to New Jersey politics, the judge told the 44-year-old Kelly she
"got caught up in a culture and an environment that lost its way."
"It's very clear the culture in Trenton was 'you're either with us or you're
not,'" she said.
Kelly and Baroni were convicted in November of all counts against them,
including wire fraud, conspiracy and misusing the bridge for improper purposes.
The government's star witness, former Port Authority official David Wildstein,
testified he and the co-defendants sought to retaliate against Sokolich. Text
messages and emails produced at trial showed Sokolich's increasingly desperate
pleas for help being ignored.
Kelly, who sent an infamous "time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee"
email, wiped her eyes with a tissue and apologized, saying she never intended
to cause harm.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Vikas Khanna called her the "impetus behind the
crime," but outside the courthouse a defiant Kelly promised that "the fight is
far from over."
"I will not allow myself to be the scapegoat in this case, and I look very
much forward to the appeal," she said.
Baroni, who also is appealing his conviction, also apologized before
sentencing, saying he accepted responsibility and made "the wrong choice."
"I let a lot of people down who believed in me and relied on me. Most of all
I let Mark Sokolich down," Baroni said. "I was wrong, and I am truly sorry, and
I've waited three years to say that."
Sokolich said Baroni's sentence was fair and he didn't hold any ill feelings.
The sentencing comes the same month another Christie ally, former Port
Authority chairman David Samson, was sentenced to four years' probation and
home confinement for using his position to pressure United Airlines to
reinstate a money-losing flight route to give him easier access to his South
Carolina weekend home.