I fell into Christie's "cult" says former ally in the new conviction for the Bridgegate scandal


Former Port Authority leader Bill Baroni – convicted for his role in the bizarre plan of political retaliation at the George Washington Bridge, known as Bridgegate – will spend slightly less time in jail than expected, following an appeal decision dismissed some of the charges against him.

Initially sentenced to 24 months, Baroni will now serve 18 months in jail, after a new hearing in Newark Tuesday before US Judge Susan Wigenton.

Baroni, in tears, expressed his sorrow for his actions. But he also directly targeted former governor, Chris Christie, for what happened when he and other people closed several toll lanes on the busiest bridge in the world to punish the mayor of Fort Lee in September 2013.

"During my career, I've always thought about knowing the difference between good and bad," Baroni said.

However, he told the judge that this line had disappeared when he went to work for the New York and New Jersey Port Authorities and under the Christie government, in order to promote Christie's interests in his re-election campaign and the governor. campaign for the president.

"I wanted to be part of the team, I wanted to please him, but I chose to let myself be caught up in his cult and culture," he said. "So, at the time of this idea, to use the George Washington Bridge lanes to help his campaign, I no longer had this line of good and bad to say no or stop it. So I did not do it. "

The former Republican state senator has said broken.

"So much of what I did in my life, I destroyed. I have deeply disappointed my friends my family and my dad. I'm really sorry, "he said, his voice wavering as he stood in Wigenton's courtroom.

The judge showed little empathy. While acknowledging that Baroni did a lot of good in her life, she said that the facts had not changed, despite the decision of the Court of Appeal which had sentenced him to a new sentence.

"When you really think about it, it was only a scandalous demonstration of abuse of power," she said, inflicting a guilty sentence of only six months He will go to jail.

Baroni's co-defendant in this high-profile case, 46-year-old Bridget Anne Kelly, Christie's former assistant chief of staff, was not in the courtroom for the new conviction. She continues to appeal her conviction to the United States Supreme Court.

Both insiders of the Christie administration were both found guilty in November 2016 of having planned the closure of several local access roads to the George Washington Bridge toll in September 2013, in which the US Attorney's Office had called it a "purely personal vendetta". "As part of Christie's 2013 re-election campaign for the governor.

Prosecutors said the two men had plotted with David Wildstein, a former political officer and port authority porter, to cause massive traffic jams at Fort Lee as a reimbursement for Mayor Mark Sokolich Republican, when of the Governor's 2013 Re-election Campaign.

Wildstein, who admitted to leading the closure plan for political purposes, pleaded guilty and testified against Baroni and Kelly. He was sentenced to three years of probation and 500 hours of community service.

Christie has never been accused of any wrongdoing or any knowledge of the scheme.

Baroni and Kelly remained on bail pending their appeal after their initial conviction in March 2017.

Most of the convictions were left untouched last November, after a three-judge appeal court found that the prosecutors had presented sufficient evidence to prove that the two had fraudulently obtained the work of the court. 39, public employees. During a severe reprimand, the Court of Appeals of the Third Circuit of Philadelphia declared that there was no "legitimate justification" for their conduct.

However, the panel rejected part of the record of the civil rights violations of the two persons, which were mainly aimed at determining whether they had violated the right of people to travel within the same state. The case was then sent back to the Wigenton court to be sentenced again for the less serious charges.

While Kelly's lawyers appealed to the Supreme Court in the case, Baroni decided in January to drop the appeals and start serving his sentence.

Appointed by Christie to the Port Authority in 2010, Baroni was deputy executive director of the agency. At trial, he was accused of deliberately misleading a legislative committee when he claimed that gateway closures were part of a legitimate circulation study.

Baroni told the court that he deserved a prison sentence, but asked for a one - year sentence, half of which will be served at home. He was sentenced to 18 months. (Aristide Economopoulos | NJ Advance Media)
Baroni told the court that he deserved a prison sentence, but asked for a one – year sentence, half of which will be served at home. He was sentenced to 18 months. (Aristide Economopoulos | NJ Advance Media) Aristide Economopoulos | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

Baroni wanted his 24-month sentence halved, half of that served at home.

"William Baroni can not and does not dispute that his behavior when realigning the George Washington Bridge lane in September 2013 was unlawful. He understands that, because of his conduct, he must serve a meaningful sentence of incarceration. For several reasons, the defense respectfully proposes a six-month sentence of imprisonment accompanied by a special condition of service to the community, allowing Bill to continue to help others, "said the lawyer. of defense in a memorial to the court.

The US Attorney's Office, however, said in his sentencing memorandum to the court that the facts showed that Baroni had done more than just commit a major fraud and misuse of the public agency's property.

"They show an outrageous abuse of power on the part of a senior government official who knew it well, but who was so intent on serving his political master that he was ready to put the safety of people at risk." , said the federal prosecutor requesting a revised sentence of at least 18 months.

The judge, in imposing his sentence, said that a message should be sent to other politicians likely to be incited to corrupt behavior.

"It is necessary to communicate to the community and the public that this type of behavior will not be accepted," said Wigenton.

Kelly has not yet set a new sentencing date for Kelly, who continues to appeal to the Supreme Court.

Ted Sherman can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @TedShermanSL. Facebook: @ TedSherman.reporter. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

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