NEWARK, N.J. - The head of a Port Authority police union nicknamed David Wildstein, New Jersey's second-highest-ranking executive at the agency, after an infamous mobster.
Gov. Christie liked to call Wildstein his personal "Mr. Wolfe," the character in Quentin Tarantino's movie Pulp Fiction who helps hit men clean up a dead body.
And Michael Drewniak, the governor's former press secretary, told Wildstein that he hated a Newark Star-Ledger columnist so much that he wanted to "beat him with a lead pipe."
At times, according to testimony in the George Washington Bridge lane closures trial in Newark, Christie administration officials and allies have spoken to one another as if they were real-life counterparts to characters in The Sopranos - the Jersey tough guys they thought they should be.
"I worked for two governors, and there are remarks made that are intended to be funny, and in most cases are funny," said Carl Golden, who served as press secretary for Republicans Thomas H. Kean Sr. and Christie Whitman. "There's sarcastic remarks made - but nothing that I can recall that ever came to this level."
He added, "They sound like a bunch of 15-year-old kids trying to impress one another."
According to prosecutors, Wildstein and two other Christie associates acted on these impulses, conspiring in September 2013 to close lanes at the bridge as a way to punish a mayor for his refusal to endorse the governor's reelection campaign.
Now in its third week, the trial of Bridget Anne Kelly, a former Christie aide, and Bill Baroni, a top Christie appointee at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, has revealed a culture in the Christie administration that seemed to welcome strong-arm tactics, including some that resulted in the federal charges against Kelly and Baroni.
Christie has long resisted that characterization of his office.
Under cross-examination Tuesday, Wildstein recounted for jurors his desire to "send a message" to a Port Authority employee whom he perceived as insufficiently loyal to Christie.
On Wildstein's behalf, Drewniak told the employee he would be fired if he didn't wise up.
"Was he shaking?" Wildstein asked Drewniak, according to testimony.
"Why did you want to find out if he was shaking? What did you mean, shaking?" asked Michael Critchley Sr., an attorney for Kelly.
"I wanted to know if he was nervous about" the conversation, Wildstein replied.
For his part, Christie threatened to "fucking destroy" a Monmouth County freeholder if he didn't show up to a scheduled event in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, according to testimony Wednesday from Christopher Stark, who worked in Kelly's office. The Republican freeholder, John P. Curley, had criticized Christie's post-Sandy job performance and called the governor a "fat fuck." Curley showed up at the event.
Kelly and Wildstein spoke of the need to develop a "dead-to-me gene" - so that if "somebody were to cross you, they would be dead to you," Wildstein told jurors.
Another target of the Christie allies' ire was Patrick Foye, executive director of the Port Authority, who told jurors he had ordered the lanes reopened on Sept. 13, 2013, after he learned they had been closed.
Foye, an appointee of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, told New Jersey lawmakers in December 2013 that Baroni's explanation of a traffic study was bogus and that Wildstein was behind the closures.
Incensed, Paul Nunziato, president of the Port Authority's Police Benevolent Association, messaged Wildstein that he wanted to send Foye "for a dirt nap" - "and actually pay for the privilege."
"Do you want me to have one of my guys accidentally shoot him in the head?" Nunziato, whose union endorsed Christie's reelection campaign, asked Wildstein in a text message on another occasion.
Wildstein said the text was a joke.
Nunziato, he said, liked to refer to Wildstein as "Meyer Lansky," a nickname Wildstein said he enjoyed because Lansky "was a Jewish mob figure with a tough reputation." He added that he didn't personally want to be considered a "mob figure."
But he did want to be considered "tough," and as the self-described "bad cop" and "enforcer" at the Port Authority.
Wildstein acknowledged he spent years trying to cultivate that reputation, sometimes by making up stories, such as the time he claimed to have taken over a League of Women Voters organization.
"It made me look like a tough guy" to "wrest control" of the group, Wildstein said.
Over the years, Wildstein also bragged to friends - falsely - that he had organized an Election Day trip to Atlantic City for Union County Democrats and black residents to prevent them from voting.
Asked by a prosecutor why he told this story, Wildstein told jurors on Sept. 26, "I like people to think that I play hardball . . . that I was aggressive and went to extremes to win an election."
The bridge scheme was consistent with that ethos. "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee," Kelly wrote in an email to Wildstein on Aug. 13, 2013. The town's mayor, Democrat Mark Sokolich, had refused to endorse Christie's reelection bid.
Kelly's message was simple, Wildstein testified: "Mayor Sokolich needed to fully understand that life would be more difficult for him in the second Christie term than it had been in the first term."