Politics

Christie Associates Guilty On All Counts In Bridgegate Trial

| by Nik Bonopartis

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's former top aide and a former top official at the New York-New Jersey Port Authority were both found guilty of conspiracy, fraud and civil rights violation in the case that's become known as Bridgegate.

After five days of deliberation, a jury delivered a verdict on the morning of Nov. 4, finding Bridget Anne Kelly, the Christie aide, and Bill Baroni, the Port Authority official, guilty on all counts.

Kelly and Baroni face up to 20 years in prison each for the most serious charges, according to Politico. Attorneys for both said they'd appeal.

During the trial, text messages the pair sent -- and communication with David Wildstein, a Christie appointee to the Port Authority -- played a key role in their conviction. Wildstein had accepted an earlier plea deal and testified against his co-conspirators during the trial.

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The most famous of the incriminating text messages was an Aug. 13, 2013 text from Kelly to Wildstein giving the latter the go-ahead to close several lanes on the George Washington Bridge, which connects Fort Lee, New Jersey, with New York City.

Christie's aides were looking to punish Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich for withholding an endorsement during Christie's second gubernatorial run.

"Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee," Kelly wrote in the text, words that would come back to haunt her when they surfaced in media reports and were used prominently in the trial.

Christie himself maintains he did not know about the retaliatory scheme, despite his former aides testifying at trial that they informed him before and during the lane closures that paralyzed Fort Lee with backed-up traffic.

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"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, reports NJ.com. "Today's verdict does not change this for me."

Kelly began sobbing when the verdict was delivered, according to Politico, while Baroni sat motionless as the jury foreman delivered the news. Although they were indicted more than a year ago, and were the subject of a 16-month investigation before that, the saga isn't over for them.

“I am innocent of these charges, and I am very, very looking forward to this appeal," Baroni told reporters outside of the courthouse.

But assistant U.S. attorney Lee Cortes wasn't sympathetic, pointing out the former Christie allies used their political posts to punish a rival and rendered extensive collateral damage on the public in the process. In addition to four days of standstill traffic, Bridgegate made it impossible for emergency services, including fire trucks and ambulances, to reach people who needed help.

"They used their positions at the Port Authority and in the governor's office to execute a malicious scheme," Cortes said, according to NJ.com, "to punish a local mayor by needlessly leading innocent travelers, adults and children who were pawns in a political game into a paralyzing traffic jam that went on for days."

Sources: Politico, NJ.com / Photo credit: Daniel Schwen/​Wikimedia Commons

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