Bridgegate defendant says he was tricked into participating in scheme

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Bill Baroni (center) looks up while walking with his attorney Jennifer Mara (second right) as they leave Martin Luther King Jr. Federal Courthouse after court proceedings

Bill Baroni (center) looks up while walking with his attorney Jennifer Mara (second right) as they leave Martin Luther King Jr. Federal Courthouse after court proceedings

Former Port Authority of New York and New Jersey official Bill Baroni testified in federal court Monday that he was not aware of political motivations when the agency closed lanes at the George Washington Bridge in 2013.

Instead, he said, his second in command at the authority — David Wildstein — told him the closures were part of a traffic study and that any communication with the mayor of Fort Lee would ruin the study.

“I listened to him,” said Baroni, “and I have regretted it ever since.”

Baroni’s testimony was the first time he publicly spoke about the scandal since he was indicted more than a year ago.

Baroni and Bridget Anne Kelly, a former aide to Gov. Chris Christie, are facing several charges stemming from a plot to cause traffic jams in Fort Lee in 2013 to punish the borough’s Democratic mayor for not endorsing Republican Christie’s re-election bid.

In federal court in Newark, Baroni cast himself as an unknowing participant in the scheme.

He testified that he wanted to return calls from Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich during the lane closures but was told not to by Wildstein, whom Baroni said communicated regularly with the Christie administration.

Baroni also claimed that after Sokolich protested that he thought the traffic jams had a political motive, Wildstein lied to him under questioning.

“I said, ‘David, tell me right now, is this true? Is there anything to this?’ And he looked me in the eye and said, ‘Absolutely not.'”

Baroni also implicated other members of the Christie administration and the port authority, whom he said had knowledge of the lane closures and helped cover up their political motivations.

The prosecution, however, questioned why Baroni never responded to Sokolich’s pleas for help while lanes were closed and traffic gridlock was taking over Fort Lee, especially after Baroni detailed his close relationship with Sokolich.

“You could have called the mayor,” said prosecutor Lee Cortes, “but you didn’t, did you?”

Testimony will resume Tuesday.

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