FORT LEE, N.J. -- A former Port Authority official was sentenced to three years probation Wednesday in the “Bridgegate” Fort Lee traffic scandal that marred the tenure of outgoing Gov. Chris Christie.
There’s a catch, though: David Wildstein, 55, the former director of Interstate Capital Projects at the Port Authority, must also complete 500 hours of community service and pay a combined $24,314 in restitution and fines.
Wildstein two months ago admitted being what Acting U.S. Attorney William E. Fitzpatrick called “the architect of this criminal scheme and a force behind its cover-up.”
His office brokered a plea deal with no federal prison time, Fitzpatrick said, because Wildstein “accepted responsibility for his actions and admitted his guilt.
“His timely, complete and truthful cooperation was extraordinary and essential to the successful prosecution of [William] Baroni and [Bridget Anne] Kelly,” he added. “The law requires the government and the court to take the nature and extent of Mr. Wildstein’s cooperation into account in fashioning an appropriate sentence.”
So Wildstein pleaded guilty on May 1 to two counts of conspiracy.
Wildstein, William E. Baroni Jr., 45, former deputy executive director of the Port Authority, and Bridget Anne Kelly, 44, former deputy chief of staff to Gov. Christie, “engaged in a scheme to manufacture traffic problems in Fort Lee by reducing from three to one the number of local access lanes to the upper level of the George Washington Bridge,” Fitzpatrick said.
Baroni and Kelly were both convicted after a trial for their respective roles in the scheme.
U.S. District Judge Susan D. Wigenton sentenced Baroni to 24 months in prison and Kelly to 19 months in prison in late March.
“This investigation has conclusively established that the conspirators, William Baroni, Bridget Anne Kelly, and David Wildstein misused their government positions to harm the very members of the public they were hired to serve,” said Inspector General Michael Nestor of the Port Authority. “By doing so, they put the interests of a few before the greater good of the public.
“They engaged in a cover-up of their scheme, and caused false information to be distributed to Port Authority employees, other government officials, and the public,” Nestor said. “We commend and thank our law enforcement partners for their cooperative effort and tireless work.”
Public corruption “strikes not only at the heart of good government but also jeopardizes the security of our communities and our nation,” New Jersey FBI Special Agent-in-Charge Timothy Gallagher added. “Public corruption erodes public confidence and diminishes the strength of our democracy.”
In a nutshell, Kelly confirmed in August 2013 that Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich wouldn’t be endorsing Christie for re-election that November. They then hatched a scheme to punish the mayor by deliberately causing significant traffic problems in Fort Lee under the false pretense of a traffic study.
Area commuters – and Fort Lee residents – still easily recall the mornings from Sept. 9 to Sept 13, when the local access lanes were reduced to one toll booth instead of the usual three without any notice to police or other borough officials.
Making matters worse, Sept. 9 was the first day of school that year.
The conspirators agreed to ignore inquiries and pleas for help from Sokolich and other local officials.
Then a contingent led by state Sen. Loretta Weinberg began attending Port Authority meetings to make their voices heard. The conspirators claimed the closures were for a traffic study.
Media reports – and eventually the federal investigation that revealed the scheme – followed soon after.
Federal investigators determined that Christie had no role in the scandal. Because of those involved, however, numerous polls have shown that the taint stuck to his tenure.
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