That is the argument federal prosecutors will make tomorrow when the man behind the infamous Bridgegate lane closures at the George Washington Bridge nearly four years ago is sentenced by a federal judge.
Federal prosecutors have recommended no jail time for David Wildstein, the Governor Christie-appointed Port Authority official behind the “Bridgegate” lane closures in September 2013 which reduced the customary three toll booths allocated to traffic from the Fort Lee entry point just south of the toll booth plaza to one booth. This caused epic, infamous traffic that gridlocked Fort Lee traffic for hours each of four weekdays, while the rest of bridge traffic into New York was apparently normal and unaffected.
Wildstein pleaded guilty to two federal felonies, both conspiracy counts (one to misapply federal funds, received by the Port Authority, and one to deprive residents of their civil rights) involving hard to define crimes which, in some corners, may be emblematic of the negative trend of overcriminalization.
(One wonders whether Wildstein’s former boss, Governor Christie, could be prosecuted for a recent state shutdown on similar charges; the fact such arguments could be made shows the peril any decision maker, in any field, faces at the hands of a vengeful prosecutor.)
At sentencing, expect both the prosecutors and defense counsel to cite various mitigating factors to argue that Wildstein should receive credit for his help to prosecutors. “Cooperating” witnesses like Wildstein almost always secure prosecutors’ agreement to recommend “leniency” if they testify truthfully and otherwise assist in ongoing prosecutions of others (sometimes, they are “co-conspirators”) in a related case, or even in unrelated matters, in exchange for agreeing to plead guilty and “accept responsibility.”
Wildstein’s slap on the wrist recommendation is not unusual, because he fulfilled his plea agreement with prosecutors. His testimony led to the convictions of two other Christie appointees: fellow Port Authority official Bill Baroni, and the Christie deputy chief of staff, Bridget Kelly, who wrote the infamous “time for some traffic problems” email that led to both state legislative and federal criminal investigations.
These are what’s called “mitigating factors” which help prosecutors decide to recommend a lower sentence than the time “range” suggested (but not required) by federal sentencing guidelines. In this case, federal prosecutors cited Wildstein’s “substantial and very useful assistance” in the investigations and his testifying for the prosecution in last fall’s criminal trial of Baroni and Kelly.
Baroni, a former state senator, was sentenced to 24 months and Kelly was sentenced to 18 months jail time earlier this year. Both of them have had their sentences stayed while they appeal their convictions before the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.