On Monday a federal prosecutor told jurors that a witness will testify that Republican Gov. Chris Christie was told about a plan to close traffic lanes near the George Washington Bridge as the shutdown was happening. For three years now Christie has denied this “Bridgegate Scandal” claim.
The trial comes years after traffic gridlock paralyzed a town next to the busy bridge connecting New Jersey to New York City for four days. Prosecutors said Bill Baroni and Bridget Kelly had sought political revenge against Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich. Baroni was a top appointee to Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and Kelly was Christie’s former chief of staff.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Vikas Khanna told jurors that David Wildstein, a Port Authority official, will testify that three days after the gridlock started he and Baroni made Christie aware of this plan during a 9/11 memorial in New York City in 2013.
“The evidence will show that … they bragged about the fact that there were traffic problems in Fort Lee and that Mayor Sokolich was not getting his calls returned,” Khanna said.
Baroni’s attorney told jurors Monday that Wildstein is a “twisted, vindictive individual who is a habitual liar.” He said Baroni acted in good faith and the lane closures were a legitimate attempt to study traffic patterns at the bridge.
According to a federal indictment, Kelly and Baroni conspired to reduce access lanes to the bridge in Fort Lee, across the Hudson River from New York City, in September 2013 after the town’s Democratic mayor declined to endorse Christie’s re-election. About 150,000 vehicles cross the bridge each day, making it one of the world’s busiest.
The two face counts of wire fraud, conspiracy, deprivation of civil rights and misusing an organization (Port Authority of New York and New Jersey) receiving federal funds. Wire fraud conspiracy carries a maximum 20-year prison term.
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