After retaliating against a mayor who refused to endorse Gov. Chris Christie’s bid for reelection, two of Christie’s former aides were convicted Friday on multiple counts of conspiracy and fraud. Although Christie had been aware of the unnecessary lane closings along the George Washington Bridge, prosecutors declined to file charges against the New Jersey governor.
In September 2013, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey abruptly closed two access lanes on the New Jersey side of the bridge which caused massive delays for first responders, school buses, and commuters throughout Fort Lee, New Jersey. In a series of emails provided by another Christie associate who pled guilty to two counts of conspiracy, the governor’s subordinates were caught mocking the citizens of Fort Lee and Mayor Mark Sokolich during the notorious “Bridgegate” scandal.
“Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” Christie’s former deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly, wrote in an email to senior Port Authority official, David Wildstein.
“Got it,” Wildstein replied before eventually pleading guilty to two counts of conspiracy and now assisting the prosecution as a government witness.
Both Wildstein and Kelly have testified that they informed Christie of the sudden lane closings before and during the Bridgegate incident with his approval. In a statement released on Friday, Christie wrote, “I had no knowledge prior to or during these lane realignments, and had no role in authorizing them. No believable evidence was presented to contradict that fact.”
Along with Kelly, Christie’s former staff appointee at the Port Authority, Bill Baroni, was also charged with seven counts of conspiracy and wire fraud for his involvement in the scandal. Despite the fact that Mayor Sokolich repeatedly tried to contact his office through phone calls, emails, and text messages in an attempt to cease the needless traffic jams, Baroni deliberately ignored the mayor’s pleas for help while participating in the email scandal.
On Friday, a federal jury convicted Baroni and Kelly of conspiracy and wire fraud for their involvement in the Bridgegate incident. Facing up to 20 years in prison, Christie’s former aides will likely receive sentences between one and three years behind bars. Sentencing has been scheduled for February 21.
“There will be corruption because human nature is what human nature is,” U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman stated after the verdict. “I do believe that verdicts like this, prosecutions like this, investigations like this, send a message to people that we don’t tolerate it, that it’s not right, and that if you do it and we find out about it, we will go after you as hard as we can.”
Although federal prosecutors claim they do not possess enough evidence to convict Christie of a crime, critics of the New Jersey governor suspect Christie had initiated the Bridgegate scandal and used his subordinates to take the fall for him.