David Wildstein, Ex-Christie Ally, Gets Probation for Lane Closings

NEWARK — David Wildstein, the professed mastermind in the so-called Bridgegate scandal, was spared prison on Wednesday when he was sentenced for his role in the blocking of lanes near the George Washington Bridge as political revenge against a New Jersey mayor, closing a final chapter in a bizarre episode that grounded the national political ambitions of Gov. Chris Christie.

Mr. Wildstein, 55, was instead sentenced to three years’ probation, 500 hours of community service and more than $20,000 in fines and restitution.

From the moment he first came up with the plan to the moment he received a now infamous email, “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” to his eight days of testimony against his former friends and allies, Mr. Wildstein was the main protagonist in an affair that, as he stated in court on Wednesday, magnified “the stereotype of the politics of this state.”

Mr. Wildstein pleaded guilty in May 2015, admitting that he had concocted the scheme and saying he had sought approval from Mr. Christie’s administration. But he had begun cooperating with federal prosecutors earlier, and his testimony led to the convictions of Bridget Anne Kelly, a top aide to Mr. Christie who sent the notorious email, and Bill Baroni, the former deputy executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the bridge.

As they pressed for a reduced sentence, federal prosecutors argued in Federal District Court here on Wednesday that without Mr. Wildstein’s “nearly three years of extraordinary cooperation with the government,” they probably would not have had enough evidence to convict Mr. Baroni and Ms. Kelly.

And had it not been for Mr. Wildstein, Mr. Christie might have been contemplating a future other than sports radio.

Once Mr. Wildstein’s cooperation became known in 2014, the governor’s office sought to discredit him, circulating a memo filled with opposition research, proclaiming that “David Wildstein will do and say anything to save David Wildstein.” Mr. Christie publicly played down their relationship, scornfully deriding as an embellishment any childhood friendship that Mr. Wildstein claimed the two men, who knew each other in high school, had had.

Although Mr. Christie was never charged, the scandal, which generated headlines around the world and became grist for late-night talk shows, tarnished his reputation, damaging his presidential and vice-presidential aspirations.

Until the very end, even as he expressed remorse for his actions on Wednesday, Mr. Wildstein was adamant that all he had wanted was to ingratiate himself with the man he referred to throughout his career as the “one constituent” that mattered to him, personally and professionally: Mr. Christie.

“I willingly drank the Kool-Aid of a man I’ve known since I was 15 years old,” Mr. Wildstein said in a statement he read to the court. “I thoughtlessly followed his hubris and I now must accept the consequences.”

Mr. Wildstein criticized a culture in Trenton, the state capital, that he said was “supervised by a group of former federal prosecutors and career public servants who encouraged the behavior that I now deeply regret.”

It was a point that Judge Susan D. Wigenton emphasized in her sentencing.

“This culminates a sad chapter in the history of New Jersey and it clearly was a culture and environment in the governor’s office that somehow made this outrageous conduct seem acceptable,” Judge Wigenton said, echoing comments she made last year in sentencing Ms. Kelly and Mr. Baroni, both of whom received prison time.

During his trial testimony, Mr. Wildstein, who had described his role at the Port Authority as the governor’s enforcer, portrayed the Christie administration as obsessed with power and revenge. He laid out the way he had orchestrated the plan to close access lanes to the bridge to punish Mayor Mark J. Sokolich of Fort Lee, a Democrat, for refusing to endorse Mr. Christie, a Republican, for re-election, and had then sought the administration’s blessing through Ms. Kelly and had carried it out with Mr. Baroni’s help.

The defense portrayed Mr. Wildstein as a political trickster who relished dirty tactics and deceit that seemed pulled from fictional political thrillers, including stealing the jacket of Frank R. Lautenberg, then a United States senator, before a debate so that Mr. Lautenberg, a Democrat, would have to borrow a coat and be uncomfortable while facing off against Mr. Wildstein’s preferred candidate, Representative Millicent H. Fenwick, a Republican.

Mr. Wildstein was repeatedly described by defense lawyers for Ms. Kelly and Mr. Baroni as “the Bernie Madoff of New Jersey politics,” and he was described even by witnesses for the prosecution as “maniacal” and “a horrible person.”

Following the sentencing, Mr. Christie’s office sent out a blistering statement, attacking Mr. Wildstein’s credibility and integrity.

“Mr. 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,” said Brian Murray, a spokesman for the governor. “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, replete with ‘rules’ and ‘sayings’ that existed only in his own mind. His outrageous allegations on culture are refuted by the exemplary conduct and honorable service of hundreds of individuals who served in this administration over the last eight years. They represent the culture of this administration, not Mr. Wildstein.”

Although no documentary evidence was ever produced directly tying Mr. Christie to knowledge of the scheme, Mr. Wildstein insisted during the trial that the governor had known of the plan, telling prosecutors that he and Mr. Baroni boasted to Mr. Christie about the scheme on Sept. 11, 2013, as the lane closings were happening. Mr. Christie’s response, Mr. Wildstein testified, was to laugh.

That testimony remained a point of contention, even after William E. Fitzpatrick, the acting United States attorney for New Jersey, declared the case closed in a news conference on the courthouse steps on Wednesday.

“We would not have called Mr. Wildstein or any other witness unless we were completely confident that that witness’s testimony was going to be truthful, accurate, and corroborated by other evidence,” Mr. Fitzpatrick said.

When pressed to explain whether that meant his office believed that Mr. Christie either was involved in the plot or knew about it, Mr. Fitzpatrick demurred.

“If we didn’t charge somebody, there was insufficient evidence to charge that person,” he said. “We follow the evidence.”

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