Former Christie deputy Chief-Of-Staff Bridget Anne Kelly and ex-Port Authority executive Bill Baroni outside court on Monday
Former Christie Deputy Chief-Of-Staff, Bridget Anne Kelly 44, and ex-Port Authority executive Bill Baroni, 44, face up to 20 years for the most serious charge of wire fraud.
The 12-person jury took five days to convict the Christie confidantes on all nine counts of connivance and participating in the Bridgegate scheme.
The defendants were accused of creating a massive morning rush hour gridlock, on the first day of school in Fall, 2013, intended as a message to the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, N.J., over his refusal to endorse Gov. Christie for re-election.
Kelly broke down weeping immediately after the verdict was announced while Baroni showed no emotion.
Convicted: Bill Baroni says he will file an appeal. He claims he is innocent
Their reaction outside court however, was defiant. Both defense teams, as well as Baroni himself , vowed to appeal.
“I am innocent of these charges, and I am very looking forward to this appeal,” Baroni said.
Defense lawyers reacted with fury at the close of the trial when U.S. District Judge Susan Wigenton told the jury they didn’t need to consider the motive of political payback to convict the pair of conspiracy.
“This case was, and is, a disgrace,” Baroni’s attorney, Michael Baldassare said.
Kelly’s lawyer Michael Critchley, described the trial as just the “first step” in his client’s effort to clear her name.
“This is not over, I can assure you,” Critchley said outside the courthouse.
“I felt my client was innocent when I came into this case. As I’m talking right now, I feel my client is innocent.”
The case revolved around whether the government had to prove that Kelly and Baroni closed lanes from Fort Lee to the George Washington Bridge in September 2013 as part of a conspiracy to punish the town’s mayor, Mark Sokolich. The defendants had said they believed the closures were part of a legitimate traffic study. Another issue at stake was the fact of if and when the governor knew about the lane closures.
Convicted: Bridget Anne Kelly wrote the infamous”Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee” email
Newark federal prosecutors presented an avalanche of evidence in the six-week trial, including text messages and emails showing that Baroni and Kelly had communicated about the petty political revenge plot before and during its implementation.
The pair, along with former Port Authority official David Wildstein, concocted a scheme to punish Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich after the Democrat had declined to endorse Christie’s reelection.
Evidence showed that Wildstein, with Kelly’s go-ahead and Baroni’s approval, reduced the lanes from Fort Lee to the George Washington Bridge for four days in September 2013, paralyzing the town as a consequence.
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The defendants’ lawyers unsuccessfully argued throughout the trial that their clients were victims of Wildstein, a liar with unbridled ambition, by his own admission.
Wildstein gave eight days of critical testimony, taking the stand under a cooperation agreement with the government. He said he saw Kelly’s orders as coming from the governor — including her notorious August 2013 command, “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”
Wildstein, who has pleaded guilty for his role in the plot, has yet to be sentenced, said he and Baroni helped create a “cover story” regarding a study of traffic safety patterns on the bridge.
During the trial, the defendants both claimed they had been tricked by Wildstein into believing a legitimate traffic study was underway on the GWB ,instead of a petty political revenge scheme.
Their other defense was “We did not act on our own.”
With the looming shadow of Christie stalking every turn of the trial, Kelly and Baroni implied the wrong people were on trial.
Kelly testified that she told Christie about the lane closures before and during their implementation. She said she felt as if she were living in an “alternate universe” after questions mounted about the closures and her colleagues in the governor’s office began feigning ignorance.
Baroni recalled a conversation with Christie during the closures at an event at the 9/11 memorial. Wildstein had a different version of the same conversation and said Christie “laughed” when informed of the gridlock, which was political in nature.
Christie associates, Bridget Anne Kelly and Bill Baroni in front of reporters after their conviction on Friday.
Wildstein, Kelly and other witnesses testified that Christie lied when he said in a December press conference that no one in his office was involved in the closures.
Few witnesses had positive things to say about the governor. He was portrayed as a hotheaded bully who used every arm of government for his own political ambition. The court saw a picture of how Christie fused the Port Authority, a bi-state agency dedicated to maintaining bridges, tunnels and airports in the New York area , into a powerful tool to curry favor and punish his adversaries.
Convicted: Kelly and Baroni said David Wildstein (picture) was the architect and executor who co-opted them into the Bridgegate scheme. Wildstein pled guilty to his role, was convicted and is awaiting sentencing
Bridget Kelly, like Baroni in his own testimony, alluded to holes in Chris Christie defense of not receiving prior communication on the scheme, as she explained deleting implicating emails.
“I deleted them because I was scared,” Kelly said, her voice quivering. “I have not shied away from that from day one. I’m not the only person, Mr. Khanna, to have deleted emails and text messages.”
He reponse suggested that Christie’s cellphone, text messages and emails were either improperly withheld or destroyed, to shield the extent of his knowledgeKelly said she was “scared” of Christie. In one instance, he became enraged at her management of a press conference, hurled a water bottle at her and barked “What am I, a fu–ing game show host?” she said.