By Andrew Seidman
A federal jury found two former aides to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie guilty of conspiring to misuse Port Authority of New York and New Jersey resources to cause tremendous traffic problems near the George Washington Bridge in September 2013 as part of a scheme to punish a local mayor.
Prosecutors accused Bridget Anne Kelly, Christie's former deputy chief of staff, and Bill Baroni, Christie's former top executive appointee at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, of conspiring with former agency official David Wildstein to retaliate against Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich for his refusal to endorse Christie's re-election campaign that year.
Kelly and Baroni were charged with obtaining by fraud and intentionally misusing Port Authority resources, wire fraud, civil rights violations and related conspiracy counts.
Kelly cried as the verdict was read, while Baroni showed no emotion. The most serious charges carry up to 20 years in prison. Sentencing was scheduled for Feb. 21.
"Like so many people in New Jersey, I'm saddened by this case, and I'm saddened about the choices made by Bill Baroni, Bridget Kelly and David Wildstein," Christie said in a statement Friday. "Today's verdict does not change this for me."
The federal jury took five days to reach a verdict in the scandal that helped sink Christie's campaign for Republican presidential nomination. The verdict came before the judge ruled on a request by defense attorneys to declare a mistrial in the case.
"We are gratified that the jury saw the evidence the same way we did," U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman said outside the courthouse.
Attorneys for Kelly and Baroni said they planned to appeal and would pursue a mistrial.
"The U.S. Attorney's Office should be ashamed of this case," Baroni's attorney, Michael Baldassare, said outside the courthouse. "This case was a disgrace."
The bridge scandal erupted in January 2014 with the disclosure of an email Kelly wrote to Wildstein a month before the lane closures calling for "traffic problems" in Fort Lee. Christie had just won re-election in blue New Jersey by a decisive margin and was well-positioned to seek the GOP's presidential nomination in 2016.
The six-week trial cast Christie as an abusive boss with a penchant for profanity-laced tirades directed at those deemed insufficiently loyal to him and revealed the unsavory methods the Republican governor and his allies used to win support for his re-election campaign.
To court local Democratic officials, for example, Christie and his allies offered tours of the Port Authority-controlled World Trade Center and even distributed steel from the original Twin Towers destroyed on 9/11.
"But let me be clear once again, I had no knowledge prior to or during these lane realignments, and had no role in authorizing them," Christie said in Friday's statement. "No believable evidence was presented to contradict that fact. Anything said to the contrary over the past six weeks in court is simply untrue.
"As a former federal prosecutor, I have respected these proceedings and refused to comment on the daily testimony from the trial. I will set the record straight in the coming days regarding the lies that were told by the media and in the courtroom."
(c)2016 The Philadelphia Inquirer