NEWARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Jurors on Friday heard losing arguments in the George Washington Bridge lane-closing case.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Lee Cortes showed a screen to the court displaying Bridget Kelly’s “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee” email from a month before the September 2013 lane closures.
Kelly and her co-defendant, former Port Authority of New York and New Jersey executive Bill Baroni, testified they believed the lane closures were part of a legitimate traffic study conceived by former Port Authority official David Wildstein, who has pleaded guilty.
Wildstein, the recipient of Kelly’s email, testified both Baroni and Kelly were fully aware of the plot to punish Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, a Democrat whose endorsement had been sought unsuccessfully by Christie’s office.
“The defendants say they were duped by David Wildstein,” Cortes told jurors. “The evidence shows they knew exactly what was going on. They shared an intense commitment to the political success of Gov. Chris Christie, and they felt they could use their political positions to execute a malicious scheme to punish a local mayor. It was a cruel and callous scheme.”
Kelly and Baroni testified they believed the lane closures were part of a legitimate traffic study conceived by former Port Authority official David Wildstein, who has pleaded guilty.
Wildstein testified both defendants were active participants in the political revenge plot.
Cortes noted Friday that the government had presented evidence that Baroni and Wildstein had talked by phone more than 2,500 times in 2013 alone. Wildstein was “the glue” to the conspiracy, Cortes said, but didn’t act alone.
“They chose to work hand in hand” with him, he said. “They knew what he was capable of, and they shared the same objective. It was his idea, and he certainly had the lead role, but he needed them to pull it off.”
Christie wasn’t charged and has claimed he wasn’t aware of the lane closures or their possible political motivation until weeks or months later. But testimony by Wildstein, Kelly and Baroni contradicted Christie’s account.
Baroni’s attorney, Michael Baldessari, made closing argument Friday afternoon. He spent more than an hour focusing on Wildstein.
Baldessari told the jury, “If you have reasonable doubt about Wildstein, then it’s game over.”
As WCBS 880’s Peter Haskell reported, Baroni came out of the courthouse doors smiling.
“I feel really relieved,” he said.
Kelly’s attorney’s summation and the government’s rebuttal summation are scheduled for Monday. The trial is in its sixth week.
Jurors were scheduled to hear from attorneys on Thursday, but after spending about an hour in her chambers with attorneys for both sides, U.S. District Judge Susan Wigenton said an unspecified legal issue had come up. She did not explain Thursday what that issue was and none of the attorneys commented. Jurors were told to return to court on Friday.
The legal issue was apparently related to the time on text messages being wrong because of Daylight Saving Time not being calculated and a mistrial was denied, CBS2’s Meg Baker reported.
The defense rested its case on Wednesday without calling Christie to the stand to testify.
Kelly and Baroni face nine counts each including conspiracy, wire fraud, deprivation of civil rights and misapplying Port Authority property. The wire fraud conspiracy counts carry a maximum 20-year prison sentence.
Baroni’s attorney appeared optimistic, saying he was “looking forward to moving forward.”
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