David Wildstein, the man implicating Christie

David Wildstein takes an oath during a hearing Jan. 9 at the Statehouse. On Friday, he indicated that Gov. Christie "had knowledge" about the bridge lane closures.
David Wildstein takes an oath during a hearing Jan. 9 at the Statehouse. On Friday, he indicated that Gov. Christie "had knowledge" about the bridge lane closures. (MEL EVANS / AP)
Posted: February 02, 2014

When David Wildstein invoked the Fifth Amendment at a hearing on the same day that Gov. Christie denied involvement in the lane closures on the George Washington Bridge, Assemblyman Thomas Giblin (D., Essex) exhorted him: "Don't let David Wildstein be the fall guy."

On Friday, Wildstein seemed to comply, accusing Christie directly in the scandal now threatening his political career.

In a letter to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey from Wildstein's attorney, Wildstein said evidence exists that Christie "had knowledge" about the lane closures in Fort Lee when they were occurring - something the governor denied in a statement hours later.

The criminal defense lawyer, Alan Zegas, whose clients have included longtime Newark Mayor Sharpe James, did not respond to requests for comment. James served 18 months on a fraud conviction.

Wildstein, who resigned from the Port Authority on Dec. 6, citing "the Fort Lee issue," became the catalyst for the scandal when his August e-mail correspondence with Christie's deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly, discussing the lane closures was released last month.

Wildstein grew up in Livingston, N.J., and attended Livingston High School, graduating a year ahead of Christie.

While political insiders have described Wildstein as Christie's insider at the Port Authority and a fierce loyalist, Christie downplayed their friendship in his first public appearance after the scandal broke.

"David and I were not friends in high school. We were not even acquaintances in high school," Christie said at the Jan. 9 news conference. "We didn't travel in the same circles in high school. You know, I was the class president and athlete. I don't know what David was doing during that period of time, and then we reacquainted years later in, I think, 2000."

Before his Port Authority post, Wildstein was known to many as Wally Edge, a pseudonym nod to former New Jersey Gov. Walter Edge. Wildstein used the name as editor of politickerNJ, an insider website. Wildstein's identity was revealed when he took the helm of the Port Authority in 2010.

Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll (R., Morris) described Wildstein - whom he knew only by the pseudonym - as having "just a spectacular grasp of New Jersey political history."

In an interview this week, Carroll, who had himself been accused of being Wally Edge, said the two would correspond via AOL Instant Messenger.

"He would be up at 2 o'clock in the morning asking political trivia questions you couldn't even Google, they were that extreme," Carroll said. "He should have been writing for Boardwalk Empire," the HBO show about Atlantic City crime and politics.

Wildstein's interest in politics began early. At 16, he tried to get on the ballot to join the Essex County Republican Committee. He ran for the school board at age 17 and joined the township council at age 23. Wildstein was elected mayor of Livingston in 1987.

Thomas L. Adams, deputy mayor alongside Wildstein at the time, in December described Wildstein's term as "tumultuous."

"Sometimes David made moves that were not productive for his career. There was a lot of political bickering," said Adams, who said he has since had no contact with Wildstein. "Maybe his ambition ran too far."

Zegas is a force in the legal community. He has taught at Rutgers-Newark Law School and is a former president of the Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers of New Jersey.

He represented Bryan Grober in a case that involved the alleged assault of a mentally challenged woman by high school athletes. He also went up against Christie, then U.S. attorney, in a 2003 case against a British citizen accused of selling missiles to terrorists.

Zegas has not been shy about claiming that Wildstein has information and will present it - if protected.

In a Wall Street Journal article last month, Zegas said such information "would make for a fascinating story."


jterruso@phillynews.com

856-779-3876 @juliaterruso

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