NEWARK, N.J. — Two former close allies of New Jersey governor Chris Christie are guilty of conspiracy, fraud and civil rights violations, the jury in the Bridgegate trial declared on Friday.
The verdict was the result of testimony from another close Christie associate. Still, in spite of his name being part and parcel of the seven weeks of trial and jury deliberations, Gov. Christie on Friday denied any association with the Bridgegate scandal.
Christie's former deputy chief of staff Bridget Kelly and Christie's appointee to be deputy executive director at the Port Authority, Bill Baroni, were convicted around 11:40 a.m. Friday morning.
Kelly was in tears, and Baroni sat stoically as the jury foreman read all nine counts against the two defendants one by one. Each time, the verdict was the same: guilty.
The jury concluded that the two carried out a plan to severely block traffic for five days in September 2013, beginning on the first day of school that year.
It was allegedly retaliation against Mark Sokolich, the mayor of Fort Lee, where the western end of the bridge is located, after Sokolich did not endorse Chris Christie, for reelection.
Another Christie ally, senior Port Authority manager David Wildstein, admitted to overseeing the traffic nightmare plan. He testified against Kelly and Baroni in court.
All three said in sworn testimony that Chris Christie lied about not knowing about the plot until well after it happened. They said that at the very latest, Christie knew that the Bridgegate traffic blockage was underway on September 11, 2013.
However, in a statement released less than an hour after the verdict came down, Christie pointed the finger back at the people who'd just been convicted.
"I'm saddened by this case and I'm saddened about the choices made by Bill Baroni, Bridget Kelly and David Wildstein," the governor said in the statement. "I had no knowledge prior to or during these lane realignments."
"This case was and is a disgrace," said Michael Baldassare, lawyer for Baroni, at a news conference on the courthouse steps minutes after the verdict came down.
"[Prosecutors] should have had the belief in their own case," Baldassare continued, "to charge powerful people, and they did not."
The "powerful people" term, while not mentioning Christie by name, clearly referred to him, and his innermost circle of advisors, who were all connected to the Bridgegate scheme, according to trial testimony.
"I won't answer the question [of] why we won't prosecute others," said U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, in response. "What I will say," he continued, "is we only pursue those we have evidence against beyond a reasonable doubt."
The new convicts' attorneys said that verdict is by no means the end of the case.
"I told Bridget this is the first step in a process," Kelly's attorney Michael Critchley said. "This is not over. We'll have another news conference in a year or two" with a different result, said Critchley.
Baroni's lawyer made a similar comment. "You can hold me to this," Michael Baldassare told reporters, "this will be reversed. The bases for the appeal are too numerous to mention."
Baroni and Kelly are scheduled to be sentenced Feb. 21. They face up to 20 years in prison, although the expected sentence, according to the U.S. attorney is more likely to be 20 to 27 months.