Former allies of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie were sentenced to short prison terms Wednesday for engineering lane closures at the George Washington Bridge as alleged retaliation against a Democratic mayor who didn’t endorse the governor.
[They said they informed the Governor of their actions but the Governor denies it]
Bill Baroni, who served as deputy executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, will spend two years behind bars and must do 500 hours of community service. His conspirator Bridget Anne Kelly was sentenced to 18 months in prison, plus a year of probation.
"I regret more than anything that I allowed myself to get caught up in this," Baroni told U.S. District Judge Susan Wigenton. “I failed."
His defense lawyers argued for leniency, noting his longtime work as an FBI informant when he was a state lawmaker.
But Assistant U.S. Attorney Lee Cortes responded that Baroni should have known better, and should have gone to authorities when he learned of the plot, but instead tried to cover it up.
Baroni "corrupted his office to send a petty, vindictive political message," Cortes said. He called Baroni's behavior "out of the playbook of some dictator in a banana republic."
Before imposing the sentence, Wigenton told Baroni, "This is a sad day for the state of New Jersey, and in particular for you."
She added: "You have lived a life of service...that makes the offense that much more perplexing."
Wednesday's courtroom appearances will bring a likely end to the more than three-year-old scandal known as Bridgegate, which brought down members of Christie's inner circle and damaged his attempt to run for president. Witnesses at a fall trial alleged Christie knew about the plan beforehand. But Christie was never charged, and he maintains that he knew nothing about it until after it broke as a news story.
Kelly, author of the now-infamous email that said, "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee," and Baroni were seeking probation.
They will have time to appeal their sentences.
Another Christie operative, David Wildstein, has admitted to cooking up the plot and testified that Kelly and Baroni helped him carry it out. He has alleged that he and Baroni spoke to Christie about the closures as they were happening. Wildstein, who cooperated with the feds as part of a plea deal, has not yet been sentenced.
Baroni and Kelly have said they believed the lane closures were for a traffic study and not a political retribution plot.
The scandal stems from the September 2013 lane closures in Fort Lee, on the New Jersey end of the George Washington Bridge, and where a Democrat, Mark Sokolich, was mayor. Christie was running for re-election that year on a platform as a bipartisan consensus-builder, and was aggressively seeking Democratic endorsements. Sokolich was a holdout.
That August, Kelly emailed Wildstein calling for "traffic problems." He replied, "Got it." Later emails captured them discussing the closures. which began Sept. 9. and caused massive jams on Fort Lee roads.
The lanes were reopened on Sept. 13, and the Port Authority said publicly that the closures were part of a traffic study, which turned out to be false.
Kelly and Baroni were convicted on Nov. 4 of conspiracy, wire fraud and other charges.
Prosecutors asked for three to four years for each, accusing them in a court filing this week of lying during their trial last fall.