Government

Baroni Indicted In Bridgegate Scandal, Wildstein Pleads Guilty

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NEWARK, NJ – Former Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Deputy Executive Director, and former state legislator, Bill Baroni, was indicted by a federal Grand Jury last week with Gov. Chris Christie’s former Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly for their alleged roles in the “Bridgegate” scandal, according to the United States Attorney’s Office in Newark.

According to the April 23 indictment, which was released Friday, the pair are each facing nine counts including conspiracy, misuse of government property and civil rights violations.

A third member of the alleged conspiracy, Port Authority Director of Interstate Capital Projects, David Wildstein, pleaded guilty in federal court Friday to two counts of conspiracy for his part in the scheme to allegedly punish Democratic Fort Lee Borough Mayor Mark Sokolich for not endorsing the Republican governor’s re-election bid.

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U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman, along with Inspector General Michael Nestor of the Port Authority, Office of Inspector General, and FBI Special Agent in Charge Richard M. Frankel, Newark Division announced the charges.

“Public officials must use government resources for proper government purposes,” U.S. Attorney Fishman said in the release. “The indictment alleges, and Wildstein admitted, that the three defendants used Port Authority resources to exact political retribution against a public official who would not endorse the Governor for re-election, and concocted and promoted a bogus cover story to execute their plan and to cover their tracks.”

In the multi-page indictment of Baroni and Kelly, investigators allege that the three devised a plan to “leverage” lane closures on the George Washington Bridge as political payback for Mayor Sokolich not backing Christie in the 2013 election.

About two dozen Democratic mayors endorsed Christie instead of Democratic challenger Barbara Buono.

Christie won the election with 60 percent of the vote.

According to the document, the three worked to close access lanes to the bridge for several mornings in September 2013, causing a massive traffic jam in Fort Lee, then ignored pleas by Mayor Sokolich to address the situation.

They then, according to the indictment, conspired to cover the action up by labeling it a “traffic safety study.”

A series of emails and phone texts released in December, after the election, allegedly show the methodology and intent to purposely close the lanes as retribution, officials said.

“These high level government officials misused the Port Authority, its employees, and their public positions for political purposes with total disregard of the negative consequences it would have on the public and Port Authority,” Inspector General Nestor said. “This case should serve as a wake-up call and warning to those public servants who might consider abusing their official positions for their personal benefit, or the benefit of others.”

Baroni and Kelly are each charged with conspiring to misuse, and actually misusing, property of an organization receiving federal benefits; conspiring to commit, and actually committing, wire fraud; conspiring to injure and oppress certain individuals’ civil rights, and acting under color of law to deprive certain individuals of their civil rights, according to the release.

Kelley maintained her innocence during a televised statement Friday even as Wildstein pleaded guilty.

“I am sad and disturbed,” State Sen. Linda Greenstein, D-14, said in a telephone interview.

Sen. Greenstein, who represents the 14th district in Middlesex and Mercer counties, won the seat after Baroni vacated it in February 2010 when Gov. Christie appointed him to the position at the Port Authority.

Baroni and Greenstein worked together in the assembly prior to that when the district included South Brunswick, and said they worked well on policy issues even though they were in opposing parties.

“Bill is very politically savvy and extremely intelligent,” she said. “I don’t know how he could get involved in something like this.”

Sen. Greenstein said she had not yet read the indictment.

If convicted, both Baroni and Kelly could face up to 20 years in prison and fines up to around $2 million, according to the release.

“William Baroni, Bridget Anne Kelly, and David Wildstein were held to a high standard of conduct due to the power they were entrusted with by the public,” Special Agent in Charge Frankel said. “These individuals breached that trust and as a consequence should be held accountable.”

An investigation ordered by Gov. Christie found that he had no knowledge, or any part in the scandal, a finding he affirmed in a statement Friday.

“Today's charges make clear that what I've said from day one is true, I had no knowledge or involvement in the planning or execution of this act. The moment I first learned of this unacceptable behavior I took action, firing staff believed to be accountable, calling for an outside investigation and agreeing to fully cooperate with all appropriate investigations, which I have done. Now 15 months later it is time to let the justice system do its job.”

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