Bill Baroni, a former ally of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, was sentenced to two years in prison for his role in a politically motivated plot to create traffic jams near the George Washington Bridge in the scandal known as Bridgegate.
A federal judge rejected Baroni's request for probation after prosecutors called the four days of gridlock a "stunningly brazen and vindictive use of power" to punish the mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey, for failing to endorse Christie's re-election in 2013.
The sentencing caps a scandal that burst onto the national political scene in January 2014, just as Christie was trying to leverage his landslide re-election in 2013 into the Republican nomination for president. Christie's popularity steadily sunk as the scandal swamped his administration, and testimony at the six-week trial depicted him as a profane bully. Christie, who said he wasn't aware of the plot at the time it was executed, suggested that Bridgegate played a role in Donald Trump not choosing him as his running mate.
Baroni, a 45-year-old lawyer and former state senator, was convicted of conspiracy and fraud on Nov. 4 with Bridget Anne Kelly, 44, a former Christie aide. The sentencing of Kelly, who also is seeking probation, will follow Baroni's hearing in Newark. Both have said they will appeal their convictions after testifying at trial that they were not guilty.
"I regret more than anything that I allowed myself to get caught up in this," Baroni said in court Wednesday. "I let the people of Fort Lee down. They deserved someone in my position to try to stop it. I took the wrong guidance, listened to the wrong people. I was wrong. I am truly sorry."
In addition to the prison term, Baroni was fined $7,500, ordered to pay $14,314 in restitution and directed to serve 500 hours of community service while on probation.
Baroni served as Christie's top executive at the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, while Kelly was a deputy chief of staff to the governor. Both testified at trial that they were duped by David Wildstein, Baroni's former right-hand man who pleaded guilty. Wildstein admitted he orchestrated the plot, and he testified as the prosecution's star witness about how the lane closings snarled traffic and ensnared commuters, ambulances and school buses. He hasn't been sentenced.
"While you attempted to cast David Wildstein as the evil mastermind, you too played a pivotal role," U.S. District Judge Susan Wigenton told Baroni. She called his actions "an outrageous display of abuse of power ."
In seeking leniency, Baroni and his lawyers submitted more than 100 testimonial letters citing his public service as a state senator, role as a mentor to dozens of people, and advocacy for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. He also cited his work as an informant to the Federal Bureau of Investigation a decade ago on corruption in Trenton.
Baroni's court submission said he is full of remorse, as pain, humiliation, embarrassment, disappointment, betrayal and bewilderment are "constant companions."
But prosecutors slammed both Baroni and Kelly in a court filing as lacking remorse after lying to jurors. Both defendants "evaded, obstructed, and gave alternative explanations that bore no relation whatsoever to the truth." Fort Lee officials said the the gridlock impeded the search for a missing four-year-old and the response to a cardiac arrest.
About a month before the lane closings, Kelly sent Wildstein an infamous e-mail that said "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee." The single mother of four said in her court filing that imprisonment would cause immense harm to her family.
Kelly and Baroni were convicted of conspiracy, fraud and civil-rights charges. Prosecutors said in court papers that Baroni and Kelly faced between 37 and 46 months in prison under advisory sentencing guidelines. But in court, they agreed to recommend a term of 24 to 30 months after Baroni's lawyers said the higher level would unfairly punish him under civil rights law.
The case is U.S. v. Baroni, 15-cr-00193, U.S. District Court, District of New Jersey (Newark).