George Washington Bridge Lane Closure Scandal Has Already Cost Taxpayers $10 Million | NBC New York
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George Washington Bridge Lane Closure Scandal Has Already Cost Taxpayers $10 Million

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    NEWSLETTERS

    AP Images
    David Wildstein, left, Bridget Kelly, center, and Bill Baroni, right.

    A nearly yearlong investigation into the 2013 lane George Washington Bridge Lane closures resulted in two indictments and a guilty plea — and New Jersey taxpayers have already footed some of the bill. 

    U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman announced Friday that former Port Authority official David Wildstein pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges while one-time Port Authority executive Bill Baroni and a former deputy chief of staff to Gov. Chris Christie, Bridget Kelly, have also been indicted.

    2 Former Chris Christie Allies Indicted in George Washington Bridge Lane Closure Case, 1 Pleads Guilty

    [NY] 2 Former Chris Christie Allies Indicted in George Washington Bridge Lane Closure Case, 1 Pleads Guilty
    Two former allies of Gov. Chris Christie have been indicted on charges related to their alleged role in creating politically motivated traffic jams on the George Washington Bridge in 2013, and one has pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges in connection with the case. Chief Investigative Reporter Jonathan Dienst reports.
    (Published Friday, May 1, 2015)

    While the charges are new, the public relations battle over what Christie knew and when he knew has raged for more than a year, with lawyers' fees accumulating at the same time.

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    NEW JERSEY PAYS

    Residents have paid about $10 million in legal costs related to the closure, according to an AP review of documents from the Legislature and the Department of Law and Public Safety.

    Bridget Kelly: "David Wildstein Is a Liar"

    [NY] Bridget Kelly: "David Wildstein Is a Liar"
    Former Chris Christie aide Bridget Kelly speaks after being indicted in the George Washington Bridge lane closures scandal, adamantly denying she ordered or conspired in the lane closures and blasting her former colleague David Wildstein, calling him a "liar."
    (Published Friday, May 1, 2015)

    The largest share — about $7.3 million — went for the governor's outside counsel, the law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, which produced a report that cleared the governor of a connection to the politically motivated lane closure. But the Democrat-led Legislature has also racked up some $1 million in legal fees.

    The state also accrued costs for outside legal counsel used to represent state employees involved in the probe. Mark Sokolich, the mayor of Fort Lee, whose town was snarled in traffic and who was the target of the political retribution scheme, says the borough's legal fees have topped $200,000.

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    FEDERAL DOLLARS?

    It's unclear exactly how much federal cash has gone into the probe. Fishman said his office does not track how much the investigation costs, but added that every investigation is different and has requires differing amounts of resources. "It has been my policy for the five and a half years I have been U.S. attorney to make sure that every investigation, no matter how large or how small or how high profile or how under the radar, gets exactly the resources that it needs to make sure that when we are done we can say proudly and fairly that we have done the best job that we can," he said.

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    RESOURCE DRAIN

    The indictment charges that Kelly and Baroni used Port Authority property worth at least $5,000 as part of the scheme to exact political payback. The documents do not estimate the worth of using the Port Authority's resources, but they allege Kelly, Baroni and Wildstein ordered engineering reports as part of a cover story about a traffic study to divert lanes on the George Washington Bridge, one of the busiest in the world.

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    POLITICAL PRICE TAG

    As Christie weighs a White House bid, some political observers say the financial cost of investigating the scandal probably won't have much of an effect on voters' opinions.

    "It's probably not a very big deal in the grand scheme of things," said Fairleigh Dickinson University political science professor Peter Woolley. "People have a picture of what happened ... and the picture is already worth many thousands of words, maybe 10 million."

    Seton Hall University political science professor Matthew Hale said many people already have firm opinions on the scandal and the cost isn't likely to anger them further.

    "Most people in New Jersey just throw up their hands on the amount of money that gets spent on crazy stuff," he said. "It's not new."

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