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Bridgegate Mastermind David Wildstein Avoids Prison

NEWARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) -- David Wildstein, the mastermind of the 2013 Bridgegate plot, will not go to prison.

A federal judge on Wednesday sentenced Wildstein to three years of probation and 500 hours of community service for his role in orchestrating the scheme to close access lanes at the George Washington Bridge in September 2013.

He will also have to pay a $10,000 fine and is banned from working in government.

As CBS2's Meg Baker reported, Wildstein walked out of federal court in his usual deadpan, Bridgegate style, in silence, yet in court he was anxious to blab about every juicy details involving his co-conspirators.

Under terms of his guilty plea in 2015, he could have been sentenced to 21 to 27 months in prison, but both the prosecution and defense asked for probation due to Wildstein's cooperation in the case, which helped lead to the convictions of two former allies of Gov. Chris Christie.

"But for Mr. Wildstein's cooperation this criminal conspiracy never would have been exposed and the individuals responsible never would have been brought to justice," Acting U.S. Attorney William E. Fitzpatrick said outside federal court in Newark on Wednesday.

While others deleted texts and emails, Wildstein saved every detail, perhaps knowing it would come in handy if he ever found himself in a jam.

Wildstein's testimony helped convict former Christie staffer Bridget Kelly and Wildstein's former supervisor, former Port Authority of New York and New Jersey executive Bill Baroni, last fall. 

Wildstein testified he used his position at the Port Authority to lead a scheme to close lanes near the bridge to punish Democratic Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich for not endorsing Christie's 2013 re-election bid.

"All three of us put our faith in a man who neither earned it nor deserved it,'' Wildstein said in court Wednesday. "I willingly drank the Kool-Aid of a man I'd known since I was 15 years old.''

Wildstein and Christie went to Livingston High School together in suburban Newark. 

Wildstein apologized to Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich and told the judge he regrets what he described as "a callous decision that served no purpose than to punish one mayor. It was stupid, it was wrong.''

"I apologize to the people of New Jersey for magnifying the stereotypes of politics in the state,'' Wildstein added.

Kelly and Baroni were sentenced to 18 and 24 months in prison, respectively, in March. Both maintain their innocence, portraying Wildstein as the wizard, "Mr. Edge," as he was known in political circles, CBS2's Meg Baker reported.

Kelly and Baroni have appealed their convictions, and called Wildstein the mastermind who told them that the lane closures at the bridge were part of a traffic study, not a revenge plot.

Wildstein's lawyer referenced Kelly's now infamous email 'time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee' and said that his client willingly brought that evidence and more to the U.S. attorney's office before  plea deal was even offered.

Was he coming clean, or staying one step ahead?

"We would not have called Mr. Wildstein or any other witness unless we were completely confident that that witness' testimony was truthful, accurate, and corroborated by other evidence," Fitzpatrick said.

Christie wasn't charged but saw his presidential aspirations run aground by a scandal that dragged on for more than three years. The scandal contributed to his approval rating falling from around 70 percent to 15 percent.

"We believe that the people who could be properly held criminally accountable were held criminally accountable," Fitzpatrick said.

Christie spokesperson Brian Murray commented on the sentencing Wednesday, saying "Mr. Wildstein devised this outrageous scheme all by himself, coerced others to participate in it and then turned himself in to avoid imprisonment for the crimes he has admitted to committing."

"He is a liar who admitted throughout his testimony that he fabricated evidence of a relationship with the Governor that never existed to enhance people's perception of his power, replete with 'rules' and 'sayings' that existed only in his own mind," Murray continued. "His outrageous allegations on culture are refuted by the exemplary conduct and honorable service of hundreds of individuals who served in this Administration over the last eight years."

Wildstein and both defendants contradicted Christie's account that he didn't know about the traffic jams or their purpose until months afterward. Wildstein testified he and Baroni joked with Christie about traffic problems in Fort Lee while the lane closures were underway, and Kelly testified she told the governor about the plans to close lanes before they occurred.

"If we didn't charge somebody, there was insufficient evidence to charge that person," Fitzpatrick said.

Christie has continued to deny he knew of the plot before or while it was going on.

(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)


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