Ex-Christie associates get up to two years in prison in 'Bridgegate' scandal

NEWARK, N.J. (Reuters) - Two former associates of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie were sentenced to federal prison on Wednesday for their role in the "Bridgegate" lane closure scandal that played a part in torpedoing the Republican's White House ambitions.

Bill Baroni, 45, the former deputy executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, will serve two years, while Bridget Kelly, 44, a former deputy of staff for Christie, received a sentence of 1-1/2 years.

The defendants were found guilty in November of plotting to close down access lanes at the heavily used George Washington Bridge in 2013 in an act of political retribution.

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Prosecutors said the massive traffic jam they deliberately created in the town of Fort Lee was intended to punish its Democratic mayor for refusing to back Christie's re-election bid, as the governor's aides tried to burnish his bipartisan credentials ahead of his 2016 presidential campaign.

Christie has denied any involvement and was not charged. But the scandal tarnished his national profile and saddled him with record-low approval ratings in his home state.

U.S. District Judge Susan Wigenton rejected pleas from defense lawyers to impose probation rather than prison, citing "an outrageous display of abuse of power."

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But she agreed with prosecutors that Kelly bore slightly less responsibility than Baroni, New Jersey's highest-ranking official at the Port Authority.

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n arguing for leniency, attorneys for Kelly emphasized her status as a single mother of four, while Baroni's lawyers pointed to his long career of public service. Both defendants told Wigenton they felt remorse.

"I respectfully ask that you allow me the opportunity to reconnect with my children and rebuild our lives," a tearful Kelly said.