Former Christie Chief Of Staff Bridget Kelly, Port Authority Exec Bill Baroni Indicted


NEWARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP)  A former political ally of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie pleaded guilty Friday for his role in creating traffic jams near the George Washington Bridge in 2013 for political retribution.

David Wildstein made the admissions in Newark U.S. District Court. He admitted to causing significant traffic problems in September 2013 in retaliation against Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich because he refused to support Christie’s re-election bid.

Wildstein pleaded guilty to federal charges of conspiracy to obtain by fraud and conspiracy against civil rights.

RAW VIDEO: U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman Discusses Bridgegate

The former official at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey – who was appointed by Christie – admitted that he talked about how the bridge’s access lanes could be used as leverage against Sokolich with former Christie chief of staff Bridget Kelly and Port Authority executive Bill Baroni. Baroni and Kelly are to be arraigned Monday morning at 11 a.m.

“Mr. Wildstein just plead guilty to two counts involving traffic caused on the George Washington Bridge, a matter in which he was deeply involved. He deeply regrets what occurred that week in 2013,” attorney Alan Zegas told reporters Friday afternoon. “He can’t undo what was done, but what he has done to date, and that is to plead guilty and to fully cooperate with the United States Attorney’s office should shed truth on what occurred during the course of that week, what led to the events, and what ensued thereafter. Mr. Wildstein has been cooperating for some time with the government. He has had hundreds if not thousands of questions asked of him. The government is more than satisfied with his cooperation and his truthfulness, and has said to the judge today, during the course of the plea, that it acknowledges that he has fully accepted responsibility for his conduct leading to the traffic jam on the George Washington Bridge. There’s a lot more that will come out.”

Wildstein did not answer question from CBS2’s Christine Sloan when he left court Friday.

An indictment against Kelly and Baroni was also unsealed Friday. They are charged with nine counts, including conspiracy and fraud.

In her own news conference Friday afternoon, Kelly said the claims in the indictment against her were false, and called Wildstein a “liar.”

“I am not guilty of these charges. I never ordered or conspired with David Wildstein to close or realign lanes of the bridge for any reason, much less retribution,” she said.

Kelly said she had been the subject of “lies” about her role in the George Washington Bridge issue that may no longer go “unchallenged.”

“Contrary to the way that I have been received by some of my former colleagues, I am not stupid. I am not wimpy, insecure, unqualified or overwhelmed,” she said. “I believe I was, and still am, very qualified.”

She said she did not know Sokolich at all, and said she knows how frustrating traffic on the George Washington Bridge can be and “would never participate in something retaliatory.”

“David Wildstein is a liar,” she said.

An attorney for Baroni also slammed Wildstein.

“(Baroni) did not commit any of the acts he stands accused of. By contrast — no one disputes contrast — no one disputes that David Wildstein is a criminal and a liar,” said attorney Michael Baldasarre.

Despite that, prosecutors claim the Baroni and Kelly did indeed conspire with Wildstein to make sure the bridge shutdown happened on Sept. 9, the first day of school – even ignoring emails from Fort Lee’s mayor that emergency crews were being jammed.

New Jersey State Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Teaneck), who started the legislative investigation, was appalled.

“And may I add it was also the week of Yom Kippur — the holiest day in the Jewish calendar — and it was the week of the September 11th observance,” Weinberg said.

Click to read Wildstein’s plea documents: Part 1 | Part 2

Wildstein is due back in court Aug. 6. He could face up to 15 years in prison.

“That calculated scheme created havoc for Mr. Sokolich and his constituents,” U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman said. Baroni, Kelly and Wildstein concocted the story about a traffic study in order to get Port Authority workers to move traffic cones in order to implement the scheme, Fishman said.

“Wildstein has admitted that the traffic study story was a sham,” Fishman said.

U.S. Attorney for New Jersey Paul J. Fishman

U.S. Attorney for New Jersey Paul J. Fishman (CBS2)

WEB EXTRA: Timeline of key events in “Bridgegate” scandal

Asked if Christie knew about the plan, Zegas referred to a previous statement.

“I have made a statement on behalf of Mr. Wildstein in January of 2013 that Mr. Christie knew of the lane closures while they were occurring and evidence exists to establish that. That is as much as I can say and as much as I will say at this time.

“Based on the evidence that is currently available to us, we’re not going to charge anyone else in this scheme,” Fishman said.

“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,” Christie said Friday. “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.”

Legal experts say Wildstein’s plea could be a turning point in the case, Burrell reported. Wildstein’s testimony could lead to the possible indictment of others suspected of part of the plan to shut down lanes.

“What you have is a major political figure who’s in the middle of everything who can tell the authorities what happened,” attorney Barry Slotnick told CBS2’s Janelle Burrell. “Mr. Wildstein will tell what happened. He may mention names of people who have suggested they knew nothing about it.”

Revelations about the traffic jams have become a major cloud over the career of Christie, who is considering running for president next year.

Christie, however, has repeatedly denied having any knowledge of the lane closures before they happened.

An investigation commissioned by Christie found Wildstein responsible for ordering the closures.

The governor fired Kelly, his deputy chief of staff, over the scandal. Wildstein, who was appointed by Christie, resigned.

The four days of traffic jams were apparently triggered by an email from Kelly to Wildstein saying, “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”

“Got it,” Wildstein replied.

He also turned over more than 900 pages of documents to the investigative committee.

In her news conference, Kelly said she was only guilty of poor taste and the failure of her humor and wit to come across – although she did not specifically reference the “traffic problems” email.

“I deeply regret and am embarrassed by the content and tone of some of the emails and text messages that I exchanged with my colleagues,” she said.

“Reprehensible” and “despicable” is how Fort Lee’s mayor described what happened, CBS2’s Meg Baker reported.

Sokolich reacted to word that he was targeted in the scandal.

“How do I feel about being a target? I don’t think anybody really wants to be a target. I was surprised, again, the whole why me? Not so sure about why, specifically. It’s troubling. It was certainly a calculated and organized initiative,” Sokolich said.

As for the key players involved, Sokolich said, “I met Wildstein once. I knew Baroni. I never met Kelly.”

The mayor went on to say that he hopes the situation is a warning against political retribution.

“We need an apology in the form of reform to make sure that there is never any of this type of retribution in the future,” Sokolich said.

As for Fort Lee residents, they sounded fed up about the whole thing.

As CBS2’s Sonia Rincon reported, Mike Bauer of Fort Lee found some consolation in the fact that someone was being held criminally responsible for the Bridgegate incident.

“I live across the street from there,” he said. “I couldn’t get out of my house for four days.”

But Bauer thinks more people had to know — including Christie.

“Four days, for no reason — no apparent reason,” he said. “And for him to say he didn’t know about it? I don’t think so.”

“It’s inconvenient for Fort Lee for what happened during that time. And I can’t believe that those people actually did that and didn’t think that anything would happen” one person said.

“It’s a terrible thing for me to have to say I trust none of them,” another added.

Other residents also suspected Christie was involved.

“I hope the truth is uncovered. I feel like Christie is involved,” said Lori Banks of Fort Lee.

But some said they remain supportive of Gov. Christie despite the indictment of former staff member Kelly.

“I like his pizzazz, his stamina, the way he talks to people. I’m not blaming him,” one man said.

As Baker spoke to residents on Main Street, some of them said they were just sick of hearing about the scandal, but all agreed it’s about time someone took responsibility.

Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer applauded word of the guilty plea, but said more needs to be done.

“The U.S. Attorney has so far taken no action regarding the conversation the Lieutenant Governor had with me in which she linked Superstorm Sandy aid with redevelopment decisions in Hoboken that were important to a client of David Samson,” Zimmer said. “I stand behind my account which was corroborated by substantial additional evidence. In addition to my contemporaneous journal entry, I told six people about the conversation on the day it occurred, including a lawyer representing the City of Hoboken.”

In pleading guilty, Wildstein will not have to go through a jury trial, for which the maximum on the two charges carry a 15-year prison sentence. Prosecutors said Wildstein will not get more than two years.

Baroni and Kelly, by contrast, could get significantly longer sentences if found guilty. But federal prosecutors said they can still make a deal.

(TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2015 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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