2 former Port Authority officials hire criminal lawyers

Dec. 18, 2013 at 6:51 PM
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TRENTON, N.J., Dec. 18 (UPI) -- Two allies of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie who resigned from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey have hired attorneys, the Wall Street Journal said.

Bill Baroni resigned Dec. 13 as deputy executive director, following the resignation of David Wildstein as director of interstate capital projects for the agency, amid controversy over an order to close lanes of the George Washington Bridge. The closure -- which resulted in snarled traffic and disruption for business, schools and other interests in the area for four days -- led to charges among New Jersey Democrats that it was intended as political payback against Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich after he declined to endorse Christie for re-election in November.

Baroni said the closure was ordered as part of a traffic study, but no study has been documented, the (Newark) Star-Ledger reported.

Christie said last week the controversy was "manufactured" and dismissed it as a "whole lot of hullabaloo," but he acknowledged the abrupt lane closures were mishandled.

"Mistakes are made and when mistakes are made people have to be held accountable for them," he said.

Citing correspondence from the attorneys, the Journal reported Wednesday Baroni and Wildstein have retained private counsel, as Democrats in the state capital, Trenton, investigate the matter.

A legislative committee has subpoenaed records, which are due to be delivered Thursday, the newspaper said.

The report said Wildstein has hired criminal lawyer Alan Zegas and Baroni has retained Michael Himmel, an attorney for Lowenstein Sandler LLP, who specializes in white collar crime.

"Mr. Baroni intends to fully cooperate with the committee's investigation," Himmel told legislators in a letter Tuesday. "We want to ensure full and complete production of the documents responsive to the subpoena."

Himmel requested a delay in producing the subpoenaed documents, but a spokesman for Assembly Democrats told the Journal they will not agree to the request and expect the documents to be produced Thursday.

A Port Authority spokesman Wednesday declined to say whether the agency is covering the cost of the attorneys, the Star-Ledger said.

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