David Wildstein, the former New Jersey state official and Gov. Chris Christie ally who orchestrated the infamous act of political retribution known as “Bridgegate,” managed to avoid jail time Wednesday for his role in the scandal. Instead, he faces three years’ probation and 500 hours of community service.
55-year-old Wildstein pleaded guilty in May 2015 to one count of conspiracy to commit fraud on federally funded property and one civil rights violation for his role in shutting down lanes near the George Washington Bridge in order to get revenge on a New Jersey mayor.
Federal prosecutors recommended a probationary sentence for Wildstein, claiming that “were it not for Wildstein’s decision to cooperate and disclose the true nature of the lane reductions, there likely would have been no prosecutions related to the Bridge Scheme,” the New York Times reported.
Christie spokesman Brian Murray attempted to distance the deeply unpopular governor and his administration from Wildstein, alleging that he “devised this outrageous scheme all by himself, coerced others to participate in it and then turned himself in to avoid imprisonment for the crimes he admitted to committing.”
However, Wildstein’s testimony described a radically different sequence of events. He claimed that the Christie administration created a culture of revenge and petty political maneuvering that compelled him to devise Bridgegate as a way to punish Mayor Mark J. Sokolich for refusing to endorse Christie’s re-election bid.
According to Wildstein, Christie aide Anne Kelly signed off on the plan, which is when she sent the notorious message, “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” while former deputy executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Bill Baroni helped execute it. Kelly and Baroni were sentenced to 18 and 24 months in prison, respectively, in March; both plan to appeal their sentences.
The governor himself was never directly implicated in relation to Bridgegate, despite Wildstein’s repeated testimony that Christie was aware of the plan. He even claimed to have boasted to Christie about Bridgegate while the lane closures were happening.