Bill Baroni and Bridget Anne Kelly, two former senior officials in New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s administration, were given 24 and 18 month jail sentences respectively for their roles in the 2013 Bridgegate saga.
The shutdown of several lanes leading onto the George Washington Bridge, the most heavily trafficked bridge in the United States connecting Manhattan to northern New Jersey, was allegedly an act of political retribution against the city’s mayor Mark Sokolich for failing to endorse Christie’s reelection bid.
Kelly was the author of an infamous email that triggered the closures. “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” Kelly wrote, just before the shutdown caused a week of chaos on the surface roads of Fort Lee.
Baroni was appointed by Christie to serve as deputy executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
Although Baroni was sentenced to a full two years behind bars by U.S. District Judge Susan Wigenton — six months longer than Kelly — both received shorter prison terms than the federal sentencing guidelines recommend. Both will remain free while they appeal the decision.
During their trial, Baroni and Kelly claimed they believed that the closures were part of a legitimate traffic study. During Baroni’s sentencing hearing, Judge Wigenton said she didn’t buy their ignorance.
“It was completely intended to wreak havoc,” she said. “It only served a punitive purpose. You clearly knew, and know today, that it was not” legitimate.
Their sentencing closes one chapter in the endless saga that’s come to be known as Bridgegate. But the legal and political battles are likely far from over. Lawyers for Baroni and Kelly made the case that their clients were simply fall guys for Christie himself, who continues to deny having any advance knowledge of the ordeal.
During the trial, the defense presented evidence in the form of text messages exchanged between other senior staff suggesting that Christie lied when he publicly denied any knowledge of wrongdoing. A civilian complaint against the governor was twice allowed to proceed by a municipal court judge, who found enough probable cause of wrongdoing and forwarded the case to Bergen County prosecutors.
Christie’s political ambitions for higher office have so far been derailed by his proximity to the scandal. His 2016 presidential campaign was hobbled by constant questions about Christie’s involvement, and despite being one of Donald Trump’s earliest supporters, he was passed over for any number of jobs in the new administration, presumably because of the liability he might be if more information were to be uncovered.