A former key ally of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was sentenced Wednesday to three years' probation and 500 hours of community service for orchestrating an act of political retribution against a mayor who did not back the governor in his re-election campaign.
David Wildstein, 55, a former Port Authority of New York and New Jersey official, pleaded guilty in May 2015 to one count of conspiracy to commit fraud on federally funded property and one civil rights violation in connection with what became known as Bridgegate -- the shutting down of lanes on the approach to the George Washington Bridge two years earlier for political revenge.
Prosecutors had recommended no prison time for Wildstein because of his cooperation in the case. He had faced up to 27 months in prison. He also was ordered to pay $14,314 in restitution and $10,000 in fines.
"But for Mr. Wildstein's cooperation this criminal conspiracy never would have been exposed, and the individuals responsible never would have been brought to justice," William Fitzpatrick, acting US attorney for the District of New Jersey, told reporters.
Asked whether prosecutors believed Christie knew about the lane closures as they were happening, Fitzpatrick said, "We believe that everybody who we could build a case against and present a case against was charged and was convicted."
In a statement, Christie spokesman Brian Murray said Wildstein "devised this outrageous scheme all by himself, coerced others to participate in it and then turned himself in to avoid imprisonment for the crimes he has admitted to committing."
"That culture at the Port Authority was created by the perpetrator of this conduct -- Mr. Wildstein," the statement said. "He is a liar who admitted throughout his testimony that he fabricated evidence of a relationship with the Governor that never existed to enhance people's perception of his power."
Wildstein's attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In March, Bill Baroni, 45, former deputy executive director of the Port Authority, was sentenced to 24 months in prison, and Bridget Anne Kelly, 44, former deputy chief of staff in Christie's office, was sentenced to 18 months in prison for their roles in a scandal that a judge called "another unfortunate chapter in the history of New Jersey."
The former officials also received a year of supervised release, 500 hours of community service and fines
In a case that stained Christie's tenure as governor, Wildstein admitted in his plea to using a "traffic study" as a cover for the lane closures and choosing the first day of school to maximize the impact.
Wildstein, former director of interstate capital projects at the Port Authority, also admitted to purposefully not alerting Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich or the town's police chief, and admitted to keeping "radio silence" intentionally with local officials on the issue.
Wildstein and his collaborators ignored questions from Fort Lee officials during the closure, according to the federal indictment of Kelly and Baroni.
In his plea, Wildstein implicated Kelly and Baroni in the scheme, saying they conspired together to punish the Fort Lee mayor.
The abrupt closure of local traffic lanes occurred on the approach to one of the world's busiest bridges -- which connects Manhattan with Fort Lee, New Jersey -- for four days in September 2013. The lane closures caused severe traffic delays that endangered citizens and posed a public safety risk, court documents state.
Emails and text messages released in January 2014 formed the basis of the criminal charges. In one email, Kelly told Wildstein, "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee."
Christie was not charged with a crime in relation to Bridgegate. After Baroni and Kelly were convicted, the governor released a statement saying he was "saddened" by the case and repeated once again that he had no knowledge of the plot to close the lanes. But the damage had been done to one of the most popular governorships in America and later to Christie's fledgling 2016 presidential campaign.
In all, four Christie-associated political figures have been convicted of criminal charges in relation to the Bridgegate investigation: Baroni, Kelly, Wildstein and former Port Authority Chairman David Samson.