By Eric Dixon
Jersey commuters just can’t get any respect.
Now the Feds want to give the man behind the infamous Bridgegate lane closures at the George Washington Bridge nearly four years ago a get out of jail card.
Federal prosecutors have recommended no jail time for David Wildstein, the Governor Christie-appointed Port Authority official who admitted to the criminal intent behind the “Bridgegate” lane closures in September 2013 which reduced the customary three toll booths allocated to traffic from the Fort Lee entry point just south of the toll booth plaza to one booth. This caused epic, infamous traffic that gridlocked Fort Lee traffic for hours each of four weekdays, while the rest of bridge traffic into New York was apparently normal and unaffected.
Wildstein is scheduled to be sentenced tomorrow morning by Newark federal district court judge Susan Wigenton. Both the prosecutors and defense counsel can and almost always suggest sentencing ranges or argue for no jail time at all. Often, cooperating witnesses like Wildstein secure prosecutors’ agreement to recommend “leniency” if they testify truthfully and otherwise assist in ongoing prosecutions of others (sometimes, they are “co-conspirators”) in a related case, or even in unrelated matters. However, the judge always has the final say on sentencing. Expect both sides to argue for leniency when they appear at the sentencing tomorrow.
Wildstein’s slap on the wrist recommendation is not that unusual, given that he largely fulfilled his plea agreement with prosecutors. He also admitted his guilt in the political payback scheme, and thus gets credit for what’s called “taking responsibility” for his crimes. Most critically, his testimony led to the convictions of two other Christie appointees: fellow Port Authority official Bill Baroni, and the Christie deputy chief of staff, Bridget Kelly, who wrote the infamous “time for some traffic problems” email that led to both state legislative and federal criminal investigations.
These are all what’s called “mitigating factors” which help prosecutors decide to recommend a lower sentence than the time “range” suggested (but not required) by federal sentencing guidelines. In this case, federal prosecutors cited Wildstein’s “substantial and very useful assistance” in the investigations and leading to the convictions.
Wildstein testified for the prosecution in last fall’s criminal trial of Baroni and Kelly. Baroni, a former state senator, was sentenced to 24 months and Kelly was sentenced to 18 months jail time earlier this year, but their sentences have been delayed pending their appeals of their convictions, which is not unusual.