A federal jury has found two former allies of Republican Gov. Chris Christie guilty on all charges in the “Bridgegate” trial.
The verdict came just after 11:30 a.m. Friday, finding both Bridget Anne Kelly and Bill Baroni guilty on all seven counts against them, including wire fraud, conspiracy, misapplication of Port Authority resources, and civil rights violations.
Kelly sobbed throughout the verdict, holding her hands over her mouth and her face. Baroni looked surprised, but he continued to smile after the verdict was read and hugged his family.
The jury found that Kelly, Christie’s former deputy chief of staff, and Baroni, a Christie appointee to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, caused traffic jams in Fort Lee in 2013 as retribution against the borough’s Democratic mayor, who did not endorse Christie for re-election.
Initially it was explained as a “traffic study,” but a star witness at the trial said the lanes were shut as political payback against Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich.
Shortly after the verdict, Michael Critchley, Kelly’s attorney, announced his intention to appeal the guilty verdict to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
“This is not over,” he told reporters outside the courthouse. “I assure you, we’re gonna have another news conference. It may take a year or two, but it’ll be a difference news conference, and we’ll be discussing different issues and a different result.”
In an emailed statement in response to the verdict, Christie once again claimed that he had “no knowledge prior to or during these lane realignments, and had no role in authorizing them.”
Christie said he will “set the record straight in the coming days regarding the lies that were told by the media and in the courtroom.”
Sokolich said he was relieved that justice prevailed, telling WABC-TV that a “shining light has been cast on this culture” that exists in Trenton and in the governor’s office.
The seven-week trial laid bare the political machinations occurring behind closed doors in Trenton and at the Port Authority ahead of Christie’s re-election in 2013.
Christie aides were courting endorsements from Democratic mayors, including Sokolich, by offering them tours of the World Trade Center site, hosting breakfasts at the Drumthwacket governor’s mansion and inviting them to sporting events.
One of the key players in that operation was former Port Authority official David Wildstein, the self-described mastermind behind Bridgegate, who pleaded guilty and testified for the prosecution.
Prison terms possible at February sentencing
U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman said Friday’s verdict was a victory for citizens who expect that their public servants are held accountable.
“When high-ranking people in government use their positions for personal or political advantage in a way that is against the law, I think it lends credence to the cynical notion that people have that people in government can’t and shouldn’t be trusted.”
The defendants will likely receive jail time at their February sentencing.
But defense attorneys will file an appeal long before then, possibly arguing in part that jury instructions that permitted convictions without taking into account the political revenge motive were unfair.
Prosecutors “ran from their theory of punishment and said punishment doesn’t matter,” said Michael Baldassare, Baroni’s attorney. “Read this indictment and tell me, without David Wildstein and without punishment, tell me what this case was about. This case was and is a disgrace.”