By Michael Aron
Chief Political Correspondent
Wildstein and his attorney left court without comment, but it was a good day for them. Wildstein faced a possible 21 to 33 months in prison for his role in the George Washington Bridge lane closure scandal. But yesterday, federal prosecutors filed a motion asking the judge for a probationary sentence because of Wildstein’s extraordinary cooperation with the government.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Lee Cortes said in court today, “Were it not for David Wildstein’s cooperation we never would have seen Bridget Kelly’s ‘time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee’ email.”
Kelly, a former deputy chief of staff to Gov. Christie and former Port Authority Deputy Executive Director Bill Baroni were sentenced earlier this year to 18 months and two years respectively in the scheme.
Wildstein, admitting he was the scheme’s architect, spent eight days on the witness stand testifying against his former friends.
Wildstein’s defense Attorney Alan Zegas told the court today, “I’ve been doing this 30 years and I’ve never had a client who turned over so much information in a complex case.”
Speaking on his own behalf Wildstein apologized profusely. “There should be no doubt that I deeply regret my action. It was stupid. It was wrong,” he said. “I admit to being part of a culture that I now understand is disgusting.”
And then he pointed a finger at Christie.
“There clearly was a culture in the Governor’s Office that made this outrageous conduct possible,” he said. “We put our trust in a man who did not earn or deserve it. I willingly drank the Kool-Aid of a man I’ve known since I was 15.”
Judge Wigenton then pronounced sentence: three years probation and a lifetime ban on government work. “Only you made an attempt to rectify some of your wrongs, unlike others in this case,” she said.
The four-day lane closure in September 2013 caused massive gridlock and fatally tarnished Christie’s presidential ambitions.
Wildstein pled guilty in 2015 to conspiracy and civil rights charges. For three and a half years he’s been talking to federal prosecutors. Acting U.S. Attorney William Fitzpatrick said that justifies today’s probationary sentence.
“The court’s sentence today of probation was absolutely fair, and it was entirely reasonable given Mr. Wildstein’s extraordinary cooperation in the investigation and prosecution of Mr. Baroni and Ms. Kelly,” said Fitzpatrick.
No others were charged in what came to be known as Bridgegate. The media pressed Fitzpatrick on why Christie wasn’t charged and if Wildstein’s testimony was 100 percent the truth, as prosecutors maintained.
“As a prosecutor, our job is to build criminal cases and hold people accountable. That’s what we do and that’s what we talk about,” Fitzpatrick said. When asked what about the governor, he said, “If we didn’t charge somebody, there was insufficient evidence to charge that person.”
The judge also sentenced Wildstein to 500 hours community service, $14,000 in restitution and a $10,000 fine.
Kelly and Baroni are on bail appealing their convictions.
So Wildstein got what he wanted, a non-custodial sentence. He lives in Florida now, but he’ll always occupy a place here in the pantheon of New Jersey political rogues.