Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich testified in federal court Wednesday that he was “petrified of further retribution” after two of three lanes to the George Washington Bridge were closed in early 2013, causing massive traffic jams in the New Jersey borough.
Sokolich claimed he lied when he wrote in a letter to the Newark Star-Ledger that he didn’t think there was a political reason for the lane closures, when he actually suspected someone was “mad at me” while the closures were still occurring.
“I wanted it to just die on the vine and keep my fingers crossed that this wouldn’t continue,” Sokolich testified, choking up.
Sokolich said he did not fear political punishment from one person in particular but rather members of Gov. Chris Christie’s office, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and other state and county agencies.
But he testified that he feared that if he publicly accused government officials of closing the lanes as political retribution against him, those officials could sabotage an ongoing development project in Fort Lee.
“I don’t even know what things could happen, and I certainly didn’t want to find out,” Sokolich said.
The testimony came on the third day of the trial of two former Christie allies who are accused of closing local access lanes from Fort Lee in 2013 to retaliate against Sokolich, a Democrat, for not endorsing Christie for re-election.
Bill Baroni, former deputy executive director of the Port Authority, and Bridget Anne Kelly, former deputy chief of staff to Christie, have pleaded not guilty.
The third day of testimony in federal court in Newark also included the admission from Patrick Foye, Port Authority executive director, that he approved two press releases related to the closures that he knew were untrue.
The releases, sent out shortly after the lane closures, falsely claimed that the Port Authority was conducting a traffic study. “It was not true,” said Foye.
Defense attorneys alleged that the “New York side” of the bistate agency, including Foye, seized on the chance to embarrass the “New Jersey side” by allowing and even encouraging the false narrative to continue.