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Convicted 'Bridgegate' Lane-Closure Participant Resentenced To Less Federal Prison Time

William E. Baroni Jr.
William E. Baroni Jr. Photo Credit: COURTESY: NJ.GOV

A former top Port Authority official had his “Bridgegate” federal prison sentence reduced Tuesday to 18 months from two years.

William E. Baroni Jr., 47, who was appointed by then-Gov. Chris Christie, had civil rights convictions tossed by a federal appeals court last September for his role in a political-retribution scheme against Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich.

Baroni and Bridget Anne Kelly, 46 — formerly deputy chief of staff for legislative and intergovernmental affairs in Christie’s office — were each convicted in November 2016 of willfully participating in what became a massive traffic jam at the George Washington Bridge that gridlocked the streets of Fort Lee.

Baroni, who was the Port Authority Port Authority of New York and New Jersey's deputy executive director at the time, was originally sentenced to 24 months and Kelly to 18 months.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit unanimously affirmed five of seven convictions for each of them and sent the case back to U.S. District Judge Susan D. Wigenton for resentencing.

Kelly is currently appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court.

A third conspirator, David Wildstein, the former director of Interstate Capital Projects at the Port Authority, pleaded guilty four years ago to conspiracy for his role in the scheme. He was sentenced in July 2017, to three years’ probation.

In addition to the prison term, Wigenton sentenced Baroni on Tuesday to one year of supervised release, 500 hours of community service, fined him $7,500 and ordered him to pay restitution of $14,314.

It all began after Kelly confirmed in August 2013 that Sokolich wouldn’t be endorsing Christie for re-election in November 2013.

Baroni, Kelly, and Wildstein “decided to punish the mayor by deliberately causing significant traffic problems in Fort Lee under the false pretense of a traffic study,” Attorney for the United States Mark Coyne said.

From the morning of Sept. 9 to Sept. 13, 2013, “they caused the local access lanes to be reduced so that only one toll booth, instead of the usual three, was accessible to the approach to the bridge for local traffic traveling through Fort Lee,” Coyne said.

“To maximize the congestion and the punitive impact on Mayor Sokolich, Baroni, Kelly and Wildstein caused these lane and toll booth reductions to start on the first day of the school year without any advance notice to Mayor Sokolich, the Fort Lee chief of police or borough residents,” the U.S. attorney said.

“The lane and toll booth reductions resulted in significant traffic in Fort Lee, for motorists intending to access the George Washington Bridge from local lanes and for residents, whose streets were choked with traffic,” he said.

“The conspirators agreed to disregard any inquiries from Mayor Sokolich and other Fort Lee officials about the lane and toll booth reductions,” they added. “They purposely ignored communications from Mayor Sokolich, including his pleas for help, requests for information, and repeated warnings about the increased risks to public safety.”

On Sept. 9, Coyne said, Wildstein sent an email to Baroni reiterating that he should maintain “radio silence” toward the mayor.

On Sept. 12, Baroni “instructed a Port Authority employee through coded language that the employee should not contact Mayor Sokolich,” the U.S. attorney said.

The three conspirators “concocted and promoted a sham story that the lane reductions were for a traffic study…so they could use Port Authority property, including the time and services of unwitting Port Authority personnel and other resources, to implement the lane and toll booth reductions and conceal their true punitive purpose,” Coyne said.

With Kelly’s and Wildstein’s knowledge, Baroni then lied about it state Assembly Transportation, Public Works, and Independent Authorities Committee.

Coyne credited criminal investigators of the Port Authority, Office of Inspector General; special agents of the FBI, and criminal investigators from the office of U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito.

Handling the case for the government are Assistant U.S. Attorneys Lee M. Cortes Jr., Vikas Khanna, David W. Feder and Senior Litigation Counsel J Fortier Imbert of Carpenito’s Special Prosecutions Division.

Coyne, who's chief of the office’s Appeals Division, said he has overseen the case because of the recusals of Carpenito and First Assistant U.S. Attorney Rachael Honig.

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