NEWARK — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie knew about the George Washington Bridge lane closure scandal while it was taking place, according to federal prosecutors making their opening statements Monday morning in the trial of two former allies of the governor accused of creating gridlock in Fort Lee to punish the town’s mayor for not endorsing Christie’s 2013 re-election.
The governor, who has denied any knowledge of the scandal until months later, was told about the lane closures at a Sept. 11 memorial service at the World Trade Center in 2013, three days into the closures, prosecutor Vikas Khanna told jurors.
Khanna said that Christie was told by Bill Baroni and David Wildstein, two former officials at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns and operates the bridge.
“The evidence will show that Baroni and Wildstein were so committed to their plan to punish Mayor (Mark) Sokolich during those few minutes they had alone with the governor they bragged about the fact there were traffic problems in Fort Lee and Mayor Sokolich was not getting his calls returned,” Khanna said.
Wildstein pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges last year and is cooperating with prosecutors. He is the government’s star witness in the trial.
Kelly, 44, is Christie’s former deputy chief of staff and Baroni, 44, is the governor’s former top executive appointee at the Port Authority.
The pair are charged with misusing federally funded property, wire fraud and depriving residents of their civil rights to travel freely in the town. They face the possibility of years in jail and fines totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars.