Former Christie ally admits role in 'Bridgegate' scheme

Posted May 1, 2015 by Business Insider
Two former top allies to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) were indicted on Friday on criminal charges related to the so-called "Bridgegate" scandal.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie reacts during a news conference in Trenton January 9  2014. Chris...
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie reacts during a news conference in Trenton January 9, 2014. Christie fired a top aide at the center of a brewing scandal that public officials orchestrated a massive traffic snarl on the busy George Washington Bridge to settle a political score
With permission by Reuters / Carlo Allegri
The two ex-allies are Bill Baroni, a former deputy executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and Christie's former deputy chief of staff for legislative and intergovernmental affairs, Bridget Anne Kelly.
Additionally, another former Christie ally and Port Authority official, David Wildstein, pleaded guilty to criminal charges relating to lane closures on the George Washington Bridge.
In court on Friday, in response to questions from a judge, Wildstein admitted to conspiring with Baroni and Kelly to order the closures to "punish" one of Christie's political rivals. Wildstein also admitted to attempting to cover up the scheme.
The charges all stem from four days of lane closures on the George Washington Bridge that occurred in September 2013. Both Baroni and Wildstein were appointed to their positions at the Port Authority by Christie. The agency oversees the bridge
The closures led to days of gridlock and delayed emergency responses in Fort Lee, which is located at the base of the bridge. Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich (D) declined to endorse Christie's reelection bid that year and Wildstein, Kelly, and Baroni are accused of engineering traffic problems in the city in order to punish him.
Christie has repeatedly denied having any involvement in the lane closures. An internal review conducted by lawyers hired by Christie's office found Wildstein and Kelly were the only two officials who "knowingly participated" in a scheme to hurt Sokolich by ordering the lane closures.
Lawyers for Kelly and Wildstein did not respond to requests for comment from Business Insider on this story. Baroni and the governor's office also did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment.
Wildstein is a former high school classmate and longtime associate of Christie. As part of his plea agreement, he faces a maximum prison sentence of up to 10 years and fines.
Last January, a special investigative committee in the New Jersey Legislature uncovered an August 13, 2013 email exchange where Wildstein and Kelly discussed Fort Lee.
"Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee," Kelly wrote to Wildstein.
"Got it," Wildstein replied.
Wildstein and Baroni resigned from their positions at the Port Authority in December 2013 as questions about the lane closures mounted. Christie fired Kelly last January after her email exchange with Wildstein was revealed.
The indictment filed by New Jersey US Attorney Paul Fishman on Friday, which described Baroni, Wildstein, and Kelly simply as "the Conspirators," accused them of attempting to "maximize" the impact of the closures.
"To maximize the congestion and thus the punitive impact on Mayor Sokolich, the Conspirators caused these lane and toll booth reductions to start on the first day of the school year in Fort Lee, without any advance notice to Mayor Sokolich, the Fort Lee Chief of Police, and the residents of Fort Lee," the indictment said. "Just as the Conspirators had intended, the lane and toll booth reductions resulted in significant traffic in Fort Lee, both for motorists intending to access the GWB from the Local Approach and for the residents of Fort Lee, whose streets were choked with traffic backing up from the Local Approach."
The indictment also alleged the conspirators "purposely ignored communications" about the closures from Sokolich including "his pleas for help, requests for information, and repeated warnings about the increased risks to public safety." It also accused the conspirators of concocting a false excuse, a supposed traffic study, to justify the closures.
"The Conspirators concocted and promoted a sham story that reducing the number lanes and toll booths accessible to the Local Approach was for a traffic study. They created and continually advanced this cover story," the indictment said.
The indictment described inseminating communications that were previously revealed by the legislative committee that seemingly support the various accusations including the infamous "traffic problems" email. It also appeared to include a new piece of information that may have been based on witness testimony — an allegation Baroni asked the closures to be reinstated after they were stopped and described them as being important to people in the state capitol.
The lane closures were stopped after four days by Port Authority Executive Director Patrick Foye when he became aware of the situation. Foye was appointed to the bi-state agency by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D). According to the indictment, Baroni had two meetings with Foye after the closures were stopped.
"Defendant Baroni demanded that the Executive Director immediately reinstate the lane and toll booth reductions because the reductions were important to 'Trenton.' The Executive Director refused defendant Baroni's demand," the indictment said.
In spite of Christie's insistence that he had nothing to with the scandal, it has cast a large shadow on his widely expected 2016 White House bid. Wildstein's attorney, Alan Zegas, has previously indicated his client may have information implicating the governor.
Read the full indictment against Baroni and Kelly below:

Indictment 1

This article was originally published on Business Insider. Copyright 2015.