David Wildstein, the minion of Gov. Chris Christie who masterminded the September 2013 closing of traffic lanes at the George Washington Bridge, could get up to 27 months in prison when he is sentenced by U.S. District Judge Susan Wigenton in Newark on Wednesday.
Wildstein, 55, admitted in federal court to conspiring with former Port Authority Deputy Executive Director William Baroni and the governor’s former Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly to “punish” Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich for not endorsing Christie’s re-election bid.
After initially staying silent on the matter, Port Authority officials insisted the shutdown of two out of three toll lanes serving Fort Lee access roads were part of a “traffic study.”
Christie even joked about it at a Dec. 2, 2013, news conference, where he said, “I worked the cones. Unbeknownst to anyone, I was working the cones” before he dismissing allegations that his aides were involved in the closures.
Wildstein said he hopes to avoid jail time in return for his cooperation with federal prosecutors but he faces 21 to 27 months in federal prison.
Wildstein was released on a $100,000 personal recognizance bond after he pleaded guilty two years ago to conspiracy to misapply property of the Port Authority and conspiracy to violate the civil rights of Fort Lee residents by hindering access to the world’s most heavily trafficked bridge.
Christie called the bridge scheme a rogue operation devised by underlings involved in his gubernatorial re-election campaign and blamed Wildstein, Baroni and Kelly for going behind his back. He even authorized lawyers to help whitewash his involvement at a cost to taxpayers of about $15 million.
His cooperation with federal prosecutors in the investigation did not link Christie to the scandal, although Wildstein testified for eight days against former Port Authority deputy executive director Bill Baroni and Bridget Anne Kelly, who had been the governor’s deputy chief of staff.
In 2014, the Wall Street Journal published photos showing Christie and Wildstein together on Sept. 11, 2013 — the third day of the closures, and well after they had ignited outrage from local officials alarmed by the traffic jams.
Kelly wrote an email to Wildstein in August 2013 that said, “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee” and he replied, “Got it.” A month later, two of Fort Lee’s three access lanes to the bridge were shut down for four days without warning.
Christopher Wray, a former U.S. assistant attorney general who headed the Justice Department’s criminal division under President George W. Bush, is President Donald Trump’s pick to run the FBI. Wray billed New Jersey taxpayers more than $2.1 million for representing Christie as his personal attorney before during and after the Bridgegate trial.
Another lawyer who was paid $150-an-hour by taxpayers to defend Christie from a citizen’s complaint accusing him of official misconduct in the George Washington Bridge lane-closure scheme, Craig Carpenito, is now in the running to be New Jersey’s next U.S. attorney.
As for the citizen’s complaint in which Carpenito represented Christie, a Municipal Court judge found there was probable cause that the governor broke the law but the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office declined to pursue the case against the governor who appointed the Prosecutor, and another judge has denied multiple requests for a special prosecutor to be appointed.
Legal bills from another lawyer, Randy Mastro of the Gibson Dunn firm, who was the public face of Christie’s defense as the lead attorney for the governor’s office, amounted to more than $11 million. There is as yet no indication whether Trump is sizing up Mastro for any federal appointment.
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