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'Bridgegate' Trial Kicks Off In Newark With Opening Statements

NEWARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) -- A trial for two former allies of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie began Monday, three years after gridlock paralyzed a New Jersey town next to the George Washington Bridge for days.

As CBS2's Christine Sloan reported, there have already been startling accusations about Christie.

Jurors on Monday began hearing opening statements in Newark in the case against Bill Baroni and Bridget Kelly.

WEB EXTRA: Timeline of key events in "Bridgegate" investigation

Baroni and Kelly, both former Christie allies, were indicted last year on multiple charges that they caused gridlock near the bridge in 2013 to punish Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich for declining to endorse Christie for reelection. Fort Lee is in charge of managing the lanes.

Kelly was Christie's deputy chief of staff and Baroni was a top executive at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the bridge.

When Sloan asked Kelly how she was feeling ahead of the trial, she replied, "Good."

Two access lanes to the bridge were closed for five days in September 2013. The lane closures came during the week of the Sept. 11 observance and the holiest day in the Jewish calendar.

Kelly and Baroni are charged with conspiracy, wire fraud, deprivation of civil rights and fraudulently using an agency that receives federal funds. The most serious charge carries a 20-year maximum prison sentence.

In opening statements Monday, the prosecution told jurors that former Port Authority official David Wildstein would testify that he and former bridge authority executive Bill Baroni "bragged'' about the traffic problems in Fort Lee and the mayor not getting his calls returned. Kelly sent the now-infamous email, "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee."

The prosecution says the discussion took place at a 9/11 memorial ceremony in New York in 2013. The shutdown began Sept. 9.

"The defense and the prosecution seem to be putting the governor's office, and perhaps the governor, smack in the middle of all of this," said state New Jersey Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Teaneck).

Wildstein, who went to high school with Christie and later became a top official in the Port Authority, pleaded guilty in May to two criminal counts.

The defense claimed Wildstein was Christie's main voice at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey – a former blogger who had files on every politician, nicknamed "the Enforcer."

In court, Baroni's attorney slammed Wildstein, calling him a "liar," a "vicious guy," a "bully," a "horrible person," and "vindictive," and adding that the government "made a deal with the devil" in the plea deal for Wildstein – who will be testifying against Baroni and Kelly.

"Everything I have to say about David so far we said, and the rest will have to wait until the government puts him on the stand," said Baroni attorney Michael Baldassare.

Baroni and Kelly will take the stand in their own defense. Their attorneys said Wildstein, who bought a big house in Florida after pleading guilty, lied to them – calling the closures a traffic study.

CBS2's Sloan asked Kelly defense attorney Michael Critchley Sr. to weigh in on Wildstein – noting that Critchley had called Wildstein a "political operative junkie" and a liar.

Critchley laughed and replied, "I think you summed it up."

Sloan also asked U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman to weigh in, noting that the defense attorneys claimed the whole case was based on a "liar."

"There will be a trial, and David Wildstein will testify," Fishman said.

Fishman declined further comment.

Meanwhile, most shockingly among the revelations Monday, attorneys said Baroni worked as an FBI informant of some sort in 2006 while Christie was U.S. Attorney.

There was no word late Monday on whether Christie would be subpoenaed to testify in the trial. The Republican governor has said he didn't know about the Bridgegate plot.

Christie's office has not responded to a request for comment.

(TM and © Copyright 2016 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2016 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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