A unanimous U.S. Supreme Court reversed the federal fraud convictions of former New Jersey officials Bridget Anne Kelly and Bill Baroni for their part in the 2013 “Bridgegate” scandal that caused a traffic nightmare on the world’s busiest bridge.
Justice Elena Kagan, writing the majority opinion, noted that the evidence in the case “no doubt shows wrongdoing — deception, corruption, abuse of power,” but concluded the realignment of traffic lanes in the scheme did not deprive the public of money or property in violation of federal fraud statutes as prosecutors alleged.
The George Washington Bridge, which connects Fort Lee, NJ, and New York City, is seen, Jan. 9, 2014, in Fort Lee, New Jersey.The George Washington Bridge, which connects Fort Lee, NJ, and New York City, is seen, Jan. 9, 2014, in Fort Lee, New Jersey.Andrew Burton/Getty Images
Kelly, former deputy chief of staff to then Gov. Chris Christie, and Baroni, a former Port Authority official appointed by Christie, were found guilty in 2016 of conspiring to fraudulently use taxpayer-funded resources to close traffic lanes on the George Washington Bridge in an act of political retribution.
After the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey, declined to endorse the Republican governor’s reelection campaign, Kelly and Baroni devised a scheme to inflict traffic gridlock on the town, imperiling the safety and security of local residents, according to law enforcement officials who testified during the trial. They claimed the closures were for a traffic study.
Christie has denied any wrongdoing. Since leaving office in 2018, he has been an ABC News contributor.
William "Bill" Baroni, left, and Bridget Anne Kelly reacts after she was found guilty in the Bridgegate trial at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Federal Courthouse, Nov. 4, 2016, in Newark, New Jersey.William "Bill" Baroni, left, and Bridget Anne Kelly reacts after she was found guilty in the Bridgegate trial at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Federal Courthouse, Nov. 4, 2016, in Newark, New Jersey.Kena Betancur/Getty Images
Prosecutors said the scheme deprived the government of “property” as defined by anti-fraud laws, by “commandeering” the lanes and costing taxpayers the time and wages of state employees ordered to develop a phony traffic study.
The Supreme Court disagreed.
“The question presented is whether the defendants committed property fraud,” Kagan wrote. “Under settled precedent, the officials could violate those laws only if an object of their dishonesty was to obtain the Port Authority’s money or property.
Kagan said the justices considered the realignment of the traffic lanes an “exercise of regulatory power — something this Court has already held fails to meet the statutes’ property requirement.” She wrote that the employee wages were just the “incidental cost” of the regulation.