NEWARK – Former Port Authority official David Wildstein today pleaded guilty to a two count information, admitting to a federal judge that he conspired with Bridget Kelly and Bill Baroni to close lanes of traffic leading to the George Washington Bridge as punishment to Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich.
Wildstein affirmed that he and Kelly – then the deputy chief of staff to Gov. Chris Christie and Baroni, then the deputy chief of the
Port Authority of New York and New Jersey – came up with the scheme as a response to Sokolich’s decision not to endorse Christie’s 2013 reelection.
The former director of capital projects for the Port and chief of staff to Baroni did not directly implicate the governor in his appearance today (see a full transcript reprinted below).
A slimmed down and semi-bearded 53-year old Wildstein – former editor of this website – appeared at the arraignment in a courtroom packed with press alongside his attorney Alan Zegas. By pleading guilty to the two counts – one detailing interference with Fort Lee residents and the second focusing on his misuse of Port resources – he waived an indictment.
Wildstein admitted to the judge that he had a September 2013 discussion with Kelly and Baroni in which Kelly acknowledged disappointment with Sokolich’s
decision not to back Christie. Wildstein said he agreed with Baroni and Kelly to cause traffic problems in Fort Lee by reducing local traffic lanes to the upper toll booth on the bridge from three to one.
Wildstein said he, Baroni and Kelly timed the closure to coincide witht he first day of school in Fort Leer – for maximum negative impact. The three agreed to ignore Sokolich’s pleas, he said. He also acknowledged that the trio later misled the public with its “traffic study”: story, which Baroni presented to the Assembly Transportation Committee headed by Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-19), who was in the courtroom today.
Setting bail at $100,000 and forbidding out-of-country travel, the judge released Wildstein on his own recognizance. She scheduled sentencing for August 6th at 10:30 a.m.
Questions immediately circulated about the impact of the case on Christie, a prospective 2016 presidential candidate. Christie did a victory lap in a statement.
“Today’s charges make clear that what I’ve said from day one is true, I had no knowledge or involvement in the planning or execution of this act,” Christie said in a statement. “The moment I first learned of this unacceptable behavior I took action, firing staff believed to be accountable, calling for an outside investigation and agreeing to fully cooperate with all appropriate investigations, which I have done. Now 15 months later it is time to let the justice system do its job.”
Simultaneously, Democrats delighted in the guilty verdict for Wildstein and his fingering of Kelly and Baroni.
“David Wildstein’s guilty plea and role in the traffic problems in Fort Lee have everything to do with Chris Christie despite his statements to the contrary,” said Kaylie Hanson, spokesperson for the Democratic National Committee. “We continue to learn how closely connected the two men were before, during and after the George Washington Bridge lane closures, yet there are still so many questions that Chris Christie has left unanswered. Yet, with his typical arrogance, Governor Christie chooses to ignore the scandal, as well as New Jersey’s growing fiscal and economic crisis brought about by his gross mismanagement, in order to travel around the country in preparation for a presidential run. Today’s news doesn’t help Chris Christie’s national ambitions, or his reputation with people in the Garden State – the majority of whom think Governor Christie personally knew that his aides were causing the traffic jam. Chris Christie is rapidly becoming one of the least popular governors in the country and today’s news only makes things worse.”
Joe Hayden, a veteran defense attorney, spoke to PolitickerNJ after Wildstein’s appearance and the subsequent indictments leveled against Baroni and Kelly.
“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” Hayden said. “Republican allies of the governor will say this vindicates him and the Mastro Report. Democrats will say this couldn’t have happened with these players in the front office without him knowing about it. And those in the middle will say ‘let’s wait until the trial.”
Today’s appearance by Wildstein occurred under the watchful eye of U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, who led the investigation into Bridgegate and who casually conferred with reporters ahead of his own scheduled afternoon press conference.
Following is printed a full transcript of today’s appearance, as distributed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office: The Government respectfully requests that the Court ask defendant Wildstein thefollowing questions to establish a factual basis for the plea of guilty:
- From in or about May 2010 until on or about December 13, 2013 were you the
Director of Interstate Capital Projects for the Port Authority of New York and
New Jersey, which I will refer to as the “Port Authority”?
- Were you hired for that position by William E. Baroni, Jr., the Deputy Executive
Director of the Port Authority?
- Did you operate as Mr. Baroni’s chief of staff while you were both at the Port
- While you were at the Port Authority, did you interact with Bridget Anne Kelly,
an employee of the Office of the Governor of the State ofNew Jersey?
- In 2013, did Ms. Kelly become the Deputy Chief of Staff for Legislative and
Intergovernmental Affairs in the Governor’s Office, which I will refer to as
- In 2013, was Mark Sokolich the Mayor of the Borough of Fort Lee, New Jersey?
- During your time at the Port Authority, was the George Washington Bridge,
which I will refer to as the “GWB,” owned and operated by the Port Authority?
- Did Fort Lee serve as the host community in New Jersey of the GWB?
- Did the GWB have an upper level toll plaza?
- Did the upper level toll plaza have 12 toll booths that were owned and operated
by the Port Authority?
- Did the upper level toll plaza receive traffic from two approaches?
- Was one of the approaches known as the “Main Line,” which included traffic
from Interstate Highway 95 and other routes?
- Was the other approach for local traffic traveling through the streets of Fort Lee,
which I will refer to as the ‘”Local Approach”?
- During your time at the Port Authority, did the Local Approach include a threelane
access road leading to the upper level toll plaza, which I will refer to as the
“‘Local Access Lanes”?
- During your time at the Port Authority, but prior to September 9, 2013, during the
morning rush period, did the Port Authority generally use cones to segregate the
Main Line traffic from the three Local Access Lanes?
- Was this done so that traffic from the Local Access Lanes led directly to three toll
booths on the upper level toll plaza?
- In or about 2013, were you aware that IGA personnel sought Mayor Sokolich’s
endorsement of Governor Christopher J. Christie’s reelection in November 2013?
- Prior to on or about August 12, 2013, did you have separate discussions with Mr.
Baroni and Ms. Kelly about how the Local Access Lanes could be used as
leverage against Mayor Sokolich?
- Prior to on or about August 12, 2013, did Ms. Kelly express disappointment to
you that Mayor Sokolich was not likely to endorse Governor Christie for
reelection, despite the efforts of IGA personnel to obtain that endorsement?
- In or about August 2013, did you agree with others, including Mr. Baroni and Ms.
Kelly, to punish Mayor Sokolich for not endorsing Governor Christie by
deliberately causing significant traffic problems in Fort Lee through a reduction in
the number of Local Access Lanes?
- To that end, from in or about August 2013 to in or about December 2013, did you
agree with others, including Mr. Baroni and Ms. Kelly, to misuse Port Authority
property to facilitate and conceal the causing of traffic problems in Fort Lee as
punishment of Mayor Sokolich?
- Furthermore, from in or about August 2013 to on or about September 13, 2013,
did you and others, including Mr. Baroni and Ms. Kelly, agree to interfere with
the ability of the residents of Fort Lee to move freely about their Borough to
punish Mayor Sokolich?
- As to the details of the scheme, did you, Mr. Baroni, and Ms. Kelly also agree to
use the cover story of a traffic study as a justification for unwitting Port Authority
personnel whose services would be used to implement the changes to the Local
- Did you, Mr. Baroni, and Ms. Kelly, also agree to use the cover story of a traffic
study as a means of concealing the true punitive purpose of the plan?
- In furtherance of the scheme, in or about August 2013, did you, Mr. Baroni, and
Ms. Kelly agree to cause the Local Access Lanes to be reduced from three to one
so that only one toll booth, instead of the usual three, would be accessible to the
- Did you, Mr. Baroni, and Ms. Kelly also agree that no advance notice of the lane
and toll booth reductions would be provided to Mayor Sokolich, the Fort Lee
Chief of Police, and the residents of Fort Lee?
- Did you, Mr. Baroni, and Ms. Kelly also purposely choose to begin these lane and
toll booth reductions on the tirst day of the school year in Fort Lee?
- Were the decisions not to give advance notice and to select the first day of school
made to maximize the traffic congestion in Fort Lee and, thus, the punishment of
- Between the mornings of September 9, 2013 and September 13, 2013, did you,
Mr. Baroni, and Ms. Kelly cause the Local Access Lanes to be reduced from three
to one so that only one toll booth was accessible to the Local Approach?
- Did these lane and toll booth reductions cause significant traffic congestion for
the residents of Fort Lee?
- Did you, Mr. Baroni, and Ms. Kelly, agree that any questions about the lane and
toll booth reductions from Mayor Sokolich and other Fort Lee officials would be
- Was purposely ignoring Mayor Sokolich’s communications a part of your
agreement with Mr. Baroni and Ms. Kelly to punish Mayor Sokolich?
- Did you, Mr. Baroni, and Ms. Kelly refer to purposely ignoring Mayor Sokolich’s
communications as “radio silence”?
- Did you, Mr. Baroni, and Ms. Kelly, in fact, ignore communications from Mayor
Sokolich during the week of the lane reductions, including Mayor Sokolich ‘s
pleas for help, requests for information, and warnings about the increased risks to
public safety from the traffic?
- For example, on September 9, 2013, the first day of the reductions, did Mr.
Baroni send you an email indicating that Mayor Sokolich had called Mr. Baroni
that morning regarding an “urgent matter of public safety in Fort Lee”?
- Did you respond to Mr. Baroni, by sending him an email stating, ‘”radio silence”?
- On that same day, September 9, 2013, did you also forward to Ms. Kelly the
email from Mr. Baroni about Mayor Sokolich’s telephone call regarding an
“urgent matter of public safety in Fort Lee”?
- On that same day, did Ms. Kelly send you an email, thanking you for confirming
that Mr. Baroni maintained “[r]adio silence” toward Mayor Sokolich?
- After the lane reductions ended on September 13, 20 13, did you, Mr. Baroni, and
Ms. Kelly continue your agreement to use Port Authority property, incl uding the
time and services of Port Authority personne l, to advance the cover story that the
reductions were for a traffic study?
- Did you, Mr. Baroni, and Ms. Kelly continue to advance the cover story of a
traffi c study to conceal the true punitive purpose of the lane and toll booth
4 1. Did you undertake the actions that you have j ust described voluntaril y, and not
because of a mistake or accident?
- 42. Specifically, with respect to Count 2, did you intend to deprive the residents of
Fort Lee of their ability to move freely about their Borough?
- 43. Are you guilty of the offenses charged in Count I and Count 2 of the
The United States represents to the Court that it can prove each of the essential elements
of the offenses charged in the Info rmation beyond a reasonable doubt, inc luding that: (I) during
the relevant period, defendant Wildstein and Baroni were agents of the Port Authori ty with the
meaning of 18 U.S.C. § 666(d)( l ); (2) during calendar year 2013, the Port Authority received
federal benefits in excess of $1 0,000; and (3) the conspiracy involved Port Authority property
with a value of at least $5,000.