Bridgegate Verdict: Former Christie Officials Found Guilty of All Charges
NEWARK — A federal jury on Friday morning found two former allies of Republican Gov. Chris Christie guilty of all charges in the George Washington Bridge lane-closing trial.
The jury began deliberating on Monday and continued through the week as defense attorneys sought a mistrial.
Bridget Kelly cried as the verdict was read while Bill Baroni showed no emotion.
The two face as many as 20 years in prison when they are sentenced Feb. 21. U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman on Friday said his office is not yet sure how much prison time they intend to recommend to the judge.
Outside the courthouse, a tearful Kelly appeared with her attorney, who told reporters that his client was innocent and "a scapegoat." Attorneys vowed to appeal.
Baroni walked out of the courthouse smiling and waving to cameras but did not stop to take questions.
On Thursday, the jury left the courthouse without sending any questions to the judge. That was in contrast to Tuesday's session when they raised several questions about the counts in the indictment against Kelly and Baroni.
Kelly, Christie's former deputy chief of staff, and Baroni, his top appointee to the bridge authority, are charged with scheming to use traffic jams to punish a Democratic mayor who didn't endorse Christie in 2013.
Defense attorneys were busy for a second day filing motions with U.S. District Judge Susan Wigenton.
While Wigenton had yet to rule on the mistrial motion Thursday, she denied a motion filed Wednesday in which defense attorneys asked her to give a different answer to jurors' questions about the top conspiracy count in the indictment.
The defense wanted to have jurors determine the defendants' guilt or innocence based on whether the government proved there was a plot to retaliate against Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich.
Under conspiracy law, however, the motive or intent behind a conspiracy doesn't always have to be proved; only the agreement to break the law does. In this case, the primary crime alleged was misusing the property of an organization receiving federal benefits — the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the bridge.
The case hinged on the testimony of David Wildstein, an official who Christie appointed to the Port Authority and who cooperated with prosecutors after pleading guilty to masterminding the plot. Wildstein is facing a sentence of almost two years in federal prison.
Wildstein testified that Christie was informed of the lane closures, which were hatched as political retribution against the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee.
Christie has denied any knowledge of the plot and wasn't charged. But Kelly, Baroni and another Port Authority official all testified Christie was informed about the lane closings either before or while they were going on.
In September, during the "Ask the Governor" program on WPG, Christie said it wasn't odd for him to not have paid much attention to the traffic jams as they were happening in 2013 because snarled traffic is not unusual at the bridge.
Last month, a Bergen County activist filed a criminal complaint against Christie, charging him with official misconduct for his alleged role in the plot. Bill Brennan based his complaint on Wildstein's testimony. A Christie spokesman called the complaint "dishonorable," but a hearing was scheduled for the charge in Superior Court in Hackensack later this month.
After the verdict, Christie issued a statement saying that he intends to "set the record straight in the coming days regarding the lies that were told by the media and in the courtroom.”
He also said:
“On January 9, 2014, I apologized to the people of New Jersey for the conduct exhibited by some members of my Administration who showed a lack of respect for the appropriate role of government and for the people we serve. Those people were terminated by me and today, the jury affirms that decision by also holding them responsible for their own conduct.
“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. Today’s verdict does not change this for me.
“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. No believable evidence was presented to contradict that fact. Anything said to the contrary over the past six weeks in court is simply untrue."
After the verdict, Fishman declined to say whether his office continues to investigate the Bridgegate scandal and said prosecutors only charged people who they believed would be found guilty at trial.
Fishman said the testimony from Kelly and Baroni that implicates Christie could not be used in another trial unless they were to testify anew.