Supreme Court overturns Bridgegate fraud convictions
In a unanimous decision, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the convictions of two officials who were found guilty of fraud in the “Bridgegate” scandal.
The court’s decision on May 7 came nearly five months after oral arguments in the case were presented in January.
Bridget Kelly, former deputy chief of staff to former Gov. Chris Christie, and Bill Baroni, former deputy director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, were convicted in 2016 on fraud and civil rights violation charges after they changed the traffic patterns for accessing the George Washington Bridge without notifying local officials.
Kelly and Baroni claimed they did it as part of a traffic study, but prosecutors said closing the access lanes was deliberately done to punish the mayor of Fort Lee, N.J., for not endorsing Christie. The lane changes resulted in massive traffic backups in that city. A jury found them guilty. Kelly was sentenced to 13 months in prison, and Baroni received an 18-month sentence.
Even though the Supreme Court opinion makes clear that actions of Baroni and Kelly were orchestrated as political retribution, the court ruled the pair’s actions did not violate the federal-program fraud or wire fraud laws, because “the scheme here did not aim to obtain money or property.”
In writing the Court’s opinion, Justice Elena Kagan stated that the evidence the jury heard “no doubt shows wrongdoing – deception, corruption, abuse of power.” But the federal fraud statutes in question do not criminalize such conduct unless it’s perpetrated with an aim to acquire property.
“That requirement, this Court has made clear, prevents these statutes from criminalizing all acts of dishonesty by state and local officials,” Kagan wrote.
A U.S. Senate committee investigation into the incident found that the lane closures occurred between Sept. 9 and Sept. 13, 2013. The George Washington Bridge connects Fort Lee with Manhattan. It carries 275,000 vehicles per day. LL