Federal prosecutors are asking for probation rather than prison time for David Wildstein, the self-admitted mastermind of the 2013 scheme to close New Jersey access lanes to the George Washington Bridge in what became the infamous Bridgegate scandal.
Wildstein is due to be sentenced Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Newark for his role in the bridge scandal, which he testified under oath was conceived and executed as an act of political retribution against Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, a Democrat, for his decision not to endorse Gov. Chris Christie’s re-election in 2013.
Wildstein pleaded guilty more than two years ago and turned state’s witness. He is a former editor of this site, when it was called PolitickerNJ.
Prosecutors are seeking leniency on his behalf, arguing that his cooperation as a government informant ensured that justice was done in the bridge case. The government pursued charges against a former deputy chief of staff for Christie, Bridget Anne Kelly, and former Port Authority official Bill Baroni. Both implicated Christie in their testimony — as did Wildstein — but Christie was not charged.
Baroni and Kelly were both convicted based in part on Wildstein’s testimony. Kelly was sentenced to 18 months in prison and Baroni to two years. Both are appealing their convictions and have denounced Wildstein as a liar.
“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,” prosecutors said in a court filing released on Tuesday, the AP reported.
Wildstein’s attorney, Alan Zegas, said probation was the appropriate sentence for his client.
“I will be asking the judge to sentence my client to a term of probation,” Zegas told Observer NJ. “He has cooperated more extensively than any client I have represented in over 30 years. There would have been no case for the government to bring if David hadn’t cooperated.”
Wildstein — who took the stand for one week during Baroni and Kelly’s trial last year — is due to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Susan D. Wigenton, who presided over the trial. Baroni’s attorneys had requested probation for his role in the scheme while the U.S. Attorney’s office sought a 24- to 36-month sentence, and Wigenton went with 24. The U.S. Attorney’s Office sought a 24-month sentence for Kelly, but Wigenton reduced it to 18 months.
It is rare for any judge to impose a harsher sentence than what prosecutors recommend, but Wigenton could impose a prison sentence for Wildstein of up to 27 months based on his guilty plea.
Christie maintains that he was unaware of the plot to close the Fort Lee access lanes to the bridge and has denounced the scheme as stupid and wrong. But the public has been skeptical of the governor’s denials for years, and the Bridgegate scandal nonetheless ended up a fatal liability for Christie’s presidential run in 2016. Following the 2013 election, Christie’s approval rating was about 70 percent. Today it is at 15 percent.
Wigenton is scheduled to sentence Wildstein at 11 a.m. on Wednesday.