Of­fi­cial: Key witness a ‘can­cer’ on tran­sit agency

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - NATION+WORLD -

A New York of­fi­cial on the bis­tate agency that runs the Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton Bridge on Thurs­day called the govern­ment’s key witness in a po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated lane clos­ing case a “dan­ger­ous char­ac­ter” at the agency.

Out­go­ing Port Au­thor­ity of New York and New Jer­sey board mem­ber Scott Rech­ler tes­ti­fied in fed­eral court that for­mer agency ex­ec­u­tive David Wild­stein cre­ated a politi­cized cul­ture that sent fear through the staff. Rech­ler, Demo­cratic New York Gov. An­drew Cuomo’s top ap­pointee to the agency’s board, de­scribed Wild­stein as a “can­cer.”

“He cre­ated a cul­ture that I think sends fear through a lot of the Port Au­thor­ity’s staff,” Rech­ler said of Wild­stein. “My view was that David Wild­stein was a dan­ger­ous char­ac­ter within the Port Au­thor­ity.”

Wild­stein, who has pleaded guilty in the bridge scheme, has tes­ti­fied for the pros­e­cu­tion in the trial of two for­mer aides to Repub­li­can Gov. Chris Christie. A key witness, Wild­stein has sug­gested Christie knew about the bridge scheme as it was un­fold­ing, an al­le­ga­tion the gov­er­nor de­nies.

Rech­ler also tes­ti­fied that Cuomo told him that he dis­cussed po­lit­i­cal fall­out from the lane clos­ings with Christie in Oc­to­ber 2013, a month after it hap­pened. Rech­ler says Cuomo told him Christie said the board chair­man com­plained about the agency’s di­rec­tor get­ting in­volved with pol­i­tics.

“Gov­er­nor Christie men­tioned to him that David Sam­son was once again com­plain­ing about (Port Au­thor­ity Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor) Pat Foye in­ter­fer­ing, get­ting in­volved in pol­i­tics,” Rech­ler said. “He asked me what was go­ing on and I re­layed to him what was go­ing on.”

Cuomo has de­nied dis­cussing the cre­ation of a false re­port to cover up the rea­sons for the lane clo­sures. Christie has not been charged and has said he did not au­tho­rize the clo­sures or play a role in cov­er­ing them up.

Rich Az­zopardi, a spokesman for Cuomo, said that Rech­ler’s tes­ti­mony “con­firms what we have said all along and fur­ther dis­proves Mr. Wild­stein’s false hearsay tes­ti­mony from ear­lier this month.”

Bill Ba­roni and Brid­get Kelly are charged with orches­trat­ing the lane clo­sures at the bridge, which con­nects Fort Lee with New York City, to pun­ish Fort Lee’s Demo­cratic mayor for not en­dors­ing Christie’s re-elec­tion bid. They have pleaded not guilty. Christie wasn’t charged in the al­leged scheme.

Rech­ler, whose term as a board mem­ber ended Thurs­day, was called as a de­fense witness by Kelly. She is ex­pected to take the stand Fri­day.

Rech­ler also tes­ti­fied that Sam­son, the for­mer board chair­man and Christie con­fi­dante, worked to un­der­mine the power of the New York side to gain lever­age for New Jer­sey. Rech­ler tes­ti­fied that Sam­son told New York of­fi­cials that they made a mis­take by leak­ing the lane clos­ings to re­porters.

Sam­son was not charged in the case, but pleaded guilty to bribery in a sep­a­rate in­ves­ti­ga­tion re­lated to get­ting a flight to his va­ca­tion home in South Carolina in ex­change for agency help for United Air­lines.

Wild­stein tes­ti­fied ear­lier this month that Sam­son told him Christie and Cuomo dis­cussed is­su­ing a re­port when the me­dia be­gan scru­ti­niz­ing the lane clo­sures. Cuomo de­nied that hap­pened, call­ing it “gos­sip that he’s pass­ing on.” No re­port was ever pub­lished.

Az­zopardi said there was no con­ver­sa­tion be­tween the gov­er­nors “con­cern­ing a ‘plan’ to have Pat Foye stand down or to have the is­sue ‘white­washed’ through a re­port. Pat Foye was in fact a whis­tle-blower — he never stood down and no re­port was ever pre­pared or is­sued.”

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