Bill Baroni, the former Republican New Jersey State Senator who used his high-paying patronage job at the Port Authority to function as a political operative for Gov. Chris Christie, was sentenced today to 24 months in prison for his role in blocking lane access to hundreds of thousands of commuters over 4 days on the busiest bridge in the world.
Later in the day, Bridget Anne Kelly, whose famous email, “time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” became a popular Bridgegate refrain, received an 18-month sentence.
The sentences are not enough. It amounts to a gentlemen’s slap on the wrist that the justice system often doles out to those who once held great power, dress well, are white, and whose hands are several steps removed from the deed by virtue of executive privilege and insulation.
Baroni’s sentence also includes supervised release for a year and 500 hours community service. But let’s not forget that all of this was hatched to punish the Fort Lee Democratic mayor for refusing to endorse Christie for re-election. Or that it was Baroni who testified to the Wisniewski-Weinberg-led legislative committee investigating the scandal that the closures were nothing more than a “traffic study,” a claim later shown up as fiction. Baroni later claimed he was “hoodwinked” by David Wildstein, who turned state witness in the Bridgegate trial. He also now says he was wrong, and waited 3 years to say it.
In November, Baroni and Christie’s former Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly were both convicted on all counts in the scandal, including:
- Conspiracy to misuse property of an agency receiving federal funds
- Misusing property of an agency receiving federal funds
- Conspiring to commit wire fraud
- Committing wire fraud (two against Bill Baroni and two against Bridget Anne Kelly)
- Conspiring to oppress civil rights
- Acting under color of law to deprive certain individuals of their civil rights
More than 100 letters pleading for leniency for Kelly and Baroni were sent to U.S. District Judge Susan Wigenton, including one from former Gov. Jim McGreevey and from Kelly’s son, who called his mother “an innocent woman.” (More on these letters at NJ.com)