The self-proclaimed architect of the George Washington Bridge lane-closure scheme shouldn’t spend a day in prison, federal prosecutors say, citing his extensive cooperation with the government.
David Wildstein is scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Susan D. Wigenton on Wednesday, nearly four years after he set in motion a bizarre political revenge plot that would help derail Gov. Christie’s political career.
Wildstein, Christie’s former number-two executive appointee at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, was the government’s star witness in last fall’s trial of two other former Christie allies, both of whom were sentenced to prison.
Wildstein, 55, pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges in 2015. He testified against Bridget Anne Kelly, Christie’s former deputy chief of staff, and Bill Baroni, Christie’s top executive appointee at the Port Authority. Kelly was sentenced to 18 months and Baroni to two years; they are appealing their cases.
Under sentencing guidelines and pursuant to his plea agreement, Wildstein could face more than two years in prison. But in a letter to the judge that was made public Tuesday, prosecutors argued that he should be sentenced to probation.
“In the truest sense, Wildstein has fully complied with the letter and spirit of his plea and cooperation,” prosecutors wrote. “He fully accepted responsibility for his criminal acts and other behavior.”
“Put simply, 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,” they added.
Prosecutors also said a sentence of probation would serve the public good.
“Cooperation by subjects of public corruption cases is absolutely critical to the government’s efforts to prosecute such crimes and bring their participants to justice,” they wrote. “When a defendant gives up his right to contest the charges and chooses to cooperate fully and early, that defendant should benefit from his cooperation.
“The interests of justice are served because it sends a message to current and future subjects of criminal prosecution that timely, complete, and truthful cooperation can have a meaningful impact on the eventual penalties for their crimes,” prosecutors continued. “The public also benefits because sending such a message to current and future subjects of criminal prosecution will lead to the exposure of criminal activity which otherwise might remain hidden.”
The sentencing decision ultimately falls to the judge.
Wildstein’s lawyer noted in a court filing that his client had cooperated with the government from the “very outset” of its investigation, which began after the January 2014 disclosure of an email Kelly wrote to Wildstein weeks before the lane closures, saying, “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”
“Got it,” Wildstein replied.
Attorney Alan Zegas wrote that his client — who has lived with his wife in Sarasota, Fla., since 2015 — deserved probation because of the “breadth, duration, and honesty” of his cooperation, and “the important message to send that cooperation is an important aspect of rehabilitation.”
Wildstein has been asked to run a foundation established by former Major League Baseball player Charlie Hayes that will provide “young athletes with the opportunity to play baseball, regardless of their economic status,” Zegas wrote.
Wildstein is also helping former New York Yankees pitcher Fritz Peterson write a book about his 1970 All-Star season, to be published in the fall, and in preparation for a future “that does not include participation in politics,” he has enrolled in an online writing certificate program at the University of California, Los Angeles, Zegas wrote.
Prosecutors accused Kelly, Baroni, Wildstein, and unnamed co-conspirators of closing access lanes from Fort Lee, Bergen County, to the bridge for four days in September 2013, causing massive traffic jams, in order to punish the town’s Democratic mayor for his refusal to endorse the Republican governor’s reelection campaign. They then tried to cover up the scheme by calling it a traffic study, prosecutors said.
A federal jury found Kelly and Baroni guilty of seven felony counts each, including obtaining by fraud and intentionally misapplying property of an organization — the Port Authority — that received federal aid; wire fraud; and civil rights violations.
During eight days of testimony, Wildstein testified that the bridge plot was his idea but that Baroni approved and Kelly ordered its implementation.
Baroni and Kelly testified that they honestly believed that Wildstein was conducting a traffic study and that they were unaware of the punitive motive.
Wildstein, who attended high school with Christie in Livingston, N.J., also testified that the governor was aware of the traffic jams while they were ongoing.
At a 9/11 commemorative event in Manhattan, Wildstein told jurors, Baroni informed Christie of the traffic tie-ups and said that the governor would be “pleased to know” the Port Authority was not returning Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich’s phone calls.
Christie laughed and responded, “Well, I’m sure Mr. Edge would not be involved in anything that’s political,” Wildstein testified. That was a reference to Wildstein’s former life as an anonymous political blogger who wrote under the pseudonym Wally Edge, a riff on the name of former New Jersey Gov. Walter Edge.
Christie has denied having any contemporaneous knowledge of the bridge plot.
In addition to Wildstein, Kelly, and Baroni, prosecutors said “others” helped carry out the bridge plot and cover-up. Prosecutors did not identify these unindicted co-conspirators, but during the trial, Wildstein testified that he told several other Christie allies about it, including the governor’s chief strategist and former press secretary.
They have denied Wildstein’s account.