Had a lighter sentence because he helped convict other Christie staffers
During his statement in court, he said of Christie: ‘I willingly drank the Kool-Aid of a man I’d known since I was 15 years old’
avoided prison time but still takes aim at New Jersey governor
A former political blogger and high school classmate of Governor Chris Christie who masterminded the 2013 George Washington Bridge lane-closing scheme in a misguided political vendetta was sentenced Wednesday to three years of probation.
It is most likely the final act in a scandal that swallowed Christie’s presidential hopes and contributed to his political decline.
David Wildstein [left], was also sentenced to 500 hours of community service and a ban on working in government.
Wildstein, of Sarasota, Florida, faced 21 to 27 months in prison under a plea agreement, but federal prosecutors asked that he get only probation after his testimony last fall helped convict former Christie staffer Bridget Kelly and Wildstein’s former supervisor, ex-Port Authority of New York and New Jersey executive Bill Baroni. The three were charged with closing access lanes to the bridge, among the busiest in the world, during a week in September 2013 to cause massive gridlock in Fort Lee, whose Democratic mayor had declined to endorse the Republican governor’s re-election.
Wildstein was the recipient of an infamous email from Kelly that said, ‘Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.’
Wildstein, Wednesday, took aim at Christie in a statement to the court : ‘All three of us [Wildstein, Bridget Kelly, Bill Baroni], put our faith in a man who neither earned it nor deserved it,’ Wildstein said. ‘I willingly drank the Kool-Aid of a man I’d known since I was 15 years old.’
Kelly was sentenced in March to 18 months in prison, and Baroni was sentenced to 24 months. They have appealed their convictions.
Prosecutors told U.S. District Judge Susan Wigenton there likely would have been no prosecutions in the case if Wildstein hadn’t cooperated.
As part of his plea deal David Wildstein is banned from working in government and is required to do 500 hours of community service
Cortes noted that, unlike Kelly, who deleted some emails related to the scheme, Wildstein turned over voluminous texts and emails that incriminated the others and himself.
Christie has denied he knew of the plot and wasn’t charged.
The governor’s spokesman, Brian Murray continued to blame Wildstein after the sentencing: ‘Mr. Wildstein devised this outrageous scheme all by himself, coerced others to participate in it and then turned himself in to avoid imprisonment for the crimes he has admitted to committing,’ Murray said.
Gov Christie, seen here with Bridget Kelly on the controversial George Washington Bridge, has thrown his former allies and staffers under the bus regarding the infamous bridge closure. Christie insists: ‘Mr. Wildstein devised this outrageous scheme all by himself, coerced others to participate in it and then turned himself in to avoid imprisonment for the crimes he has admitted to committing,’
Wildstein and Christie attended Livingston High School, outside Newark. Christie played catcher on a baseball team and has spoken of his youthful dreams of playing for the New York Mets. Wildstein was the team’s statistician and later became a behind-the-scenes political player with a bagful of dirty tricks he was unafraid to use.
Years later their paths crossed again when Christie approved the hiring of Wildstein to a newly created position at the Port Authority, where he was charged with overseeing major capital projects, despite his having no relevant qualifications.
As the judge criticized a political environment ‘in which this outrageous conduct was acceptable’, Wildstein touched on that in his statement to the court.
‘I apologize to the people of New Jersey for magnifying the stereotypes of politics in the state,’ he said.
The bridge scandal, now known as Bridgegate, was bizarre even for New Jersey, where politics is a bare-knuckle affair.
When the going was good former allies Bill Baroni, Gov Chris Christie and David Wildstein confer
The scandal has left a cloud over Christie’s two-term administration, which is in its final months. Christie’s approval rating hovered around 70 percent in early 2013; it’s now below 20 percent.
His campaign for the GOP presidential nomination foundered, partly due to negative publicity surrounding the story, and he later admitted it was a factor in his not being named as Donald Trump’s running mate.
Wildstein, Kelly and Baroni contradicted Christie’s account that he didn’t know about the traffic jams or their purpose until months afterward.
Wildstein testified he and Baroni joked with Christie about traffic problems in Fort Lee while the lane closures were underway, and Kelly testified she told him about the plans to close lanes before they occurred.
Wildstein apologized Wednesday to Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich and told the judge he regrets ‘a callous decision that served no purpose than to punish one mayor.’
‘It was stupid,’ he said. ‘It was wrong.’
Prosecutors revealed Wednesday that Wildstein provided information that helped them in a bribery investigation against another Christie ally, former Port Authority Chairman David Samson.
The once untouchable Samson admitted using his position to pressure United Airlines to revive a flight from Newark to South Carolina, near his weekend home. He was sentenced this year to probation and home confinement.