March 29 (UPI) — Two former members of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie‘s administration were sentenced to prison Wednesday for their roles in a 2013 political revenge scandal involving a major commuting artery in and out of Manhattan.
Bridget Anne Kelly, a former deputy chief of staff to Christie, was sentenced to 18 months in prison and Bill Baroni, a former gubernatorial appointee at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, was given a two-year term.
Last fall, a federal jury concluded that both played a role in intentionally shutting down lanes on the George Washington Bridge in September 2013 — to bottleneck rush hour traffic on the New Jersey side of the crossing in Fort Lee.
The gridlock was intended as punishment against Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich because he did not endorse Christie in his 2013 re-election bid. Large swaths of traffic — which included emergency vehicles and school buses — was snarled for nearly a week as a result of the lane closures.
Kelly, 44, and Baroni, 45, were convicted of conspiracy and fraud in November. Both said Wednesday they will appeal their sentences.
“I want to ensure my kids and everyone else that this fight is far from over,” Kelly said.
The George Washington Bridge, one of Manhattan’s main transit arteries, was used by multiple government and transit officials in September 2013 for a political revenge plot against a mayor who did not support the re-election bid of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Two of the conspirators were sentenced to prison Wednesday. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI
“What occurred in September of 2013 was an outrageous abuse of power,” Judge Susan D. Wigenton said Wednesday, calling it a “sad day” for New Jersey.
“Those are the actions out of the playbook of some dictator of a banana republic,” Asst. U.S. attorney Lee Cortes said. “It is incomprehensible that such actions could take place here, in the United States.”
Prosecutors insisted on prison time for both defendants, partly due to what they said was a lack of remorse and incidents of perjury during the 7-week trial.
“That is why I regret, more than anything, that I allowed myself to get caught up in this and fail to help those who need it,” Baroni said before he was sentenced. “I let the people in Fort Lee down. They deserve someone in my position to have tried to stop this. But I didn’t stop this. No one else is responsible for my choice.”
Prosecutors first sought 37 months for Baroni and 46 months for Kelly before lowering the desired sentences.
Two other people were also given prison time in the case after they plead guilty to related charges. Christie himself was never charged, but prosecutors have argued that it’s unlikely that he wouldn’t have had at least some knowledge of the political revenge plot.
“The reason is simple but compelling — that charge cannot be proven beyond a reasonable doubt,” the Bergen County prosecutor’s office said.
The scandal, however, did significant political damage to Christie, who unsuccessfully ran for the Republican presidential nomination last year.