Christie ac­cused of us­ing agency to gain sup­port

Baltimore Sun - - NATION - By David Porter

NE­WARK, N.J. — Repub­li­can Gov. Chris Christie’s of­fice in New Jer­sey used the bis­tate agency that runs the NewYork area’s bridges, tun­nels, ports and air­ports as a clear­ing­house for po­lit­i­cal fa­vors aimed at gain­ing en­dorse­ments from lo­cal Demo­cratic politi­cians, a wit­ness tes­ti­fied Fri­day in the fraud trial of two for­mer Christie al­lies.

Among those di­rectly in­volved in the ef­fort or aware of it were Brid­get Kelly and Bill Ba­roni, who are ac­cused of cre­at­ing traf­fic grid­lock at the Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton Bridge in 2013 to pun­ish a mayor for not en­dors­ing Christie, ac­cord­ing to David Wild­stein.

Wild­stein said Christie and his for­mer cam­paign man­ager, Bill Stepien, were among those who dis­cussed the strat­egy at a meet­ing about Christie’s 2013 re­elec­tion.

Wild­stein has pleaded guilty in the scheme to tie up traf­fic at the bridge, which con­nects Fort Lee, N.J., with New York City.

Ba­roni was Wild­stein’s boss at the Port Author­ity of New York and New Jer­sey, which op­er­ates bridges, air­ports and fa­cil­i­ties in­clud­ing the World Trade Cen­ter. Kelly was Christie’s deputy chief of staff. They are ac­cused of re­duc­ing ac­cess lanes to the bridge and face fraud, con­spir­acy and civil rights charges. They have pleaded not guilty.

Christie has de­nied know­ing about the bridge scheme un­til well af­ter it was car­ried out. He hasn’t been charged. Pros­e­cu­tors have said Wild­stein will tes­tify he bragged to Christie about the lane clo­sures on the third day of the four-day shut­down.

The fa­vors doled out in­cluded grants, emer­gency re­sponse equip­ment, pri­vate tours of the World Trade Cen­ter rede­vel­op­ment site and pieces of steel sal­vaged from the de­stroyed twin tow­ers, Wild­stein said.

While the Port Author­ity would pro­vide the ben­e­fits, Wild­stein tes­ti­fied, the gov- er­nor’s of­fice would con­trol the process and take most of the credit in its quest to curry favor with politi­cians.

Dur­ing tes­ti­mony ear­lier Fri­day, for­mer Christie cam­paign staffer Matt Mow­ers said Christie wrote a let­ter to the Port Author­ity sup­port­ing the pur­chase of com­muter shut­tle buses Demo­cratic Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich had re­quested. Sokolich even­tu­ally de­clined to en­dorse Christie in 2013 and was the tar­get of the lane-clos­ing scheme, pros­e­cu­tors say. David Wild­stein has tes­ti­fied on the 2013 Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton Bridge scan­dal.

JULIO CORTEZ/AP

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