U.S. Supreme Court

'Bridgegate' convictions tossed by Supreme Court, which says federal corruption laws don't apply

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George Washington Bridge in the nighttime

The George Washington Bridge connects Manhattan and Fort Lee, New Jersey. Photo from Shutterstock.com.

On Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the political corruption convictions of two former New Jersey officials involved in a scheme to close down the George Washington Bridge for political punishment.

The unanimous court overturned the “Bridgegate” convictions of Bridget Anne Kelly and William Baroni, who were convicted under federal statutes prohibiting wire fraud and fraud on a federally funded program or entity.

Kelly and Baroni could not be convicted under those laws because their dishonest scheme was not intended to obtain money or property, Justice Elena Kagan wrote in her opinion for the court.

“Save for bribes or kickbacks (not at issue here), a state or local official’s fraudulent schemes violate [federal fraud] law only when … they are ‘for obtaining money or property,’ ” Kagan wrote.

“The upshot is that federal fraud law leaves much public corruption to the states (or their electorates) to rectify.”

Kelly was deputy chief of staff to then-New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and Baroni was deputy executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. They had closed the lanes of the bridge running between Manhattan and Fort Lee, New Jersey, to punish Fort Lee’s mayor for refusing to support Christie’s reelection bid.

Prosecutors had contended that the shutdown was intended to obtain property because the officials sought to “commandeer” access lanes and to divert the wage labor of port authorities in that effort. The Supreme Court disagreed.

“The realignment of the toll lanes was an exercise of regulatory power—something this court has already held fails to meet the statutes’ property requirement,” Kagan wrote. “And the employees’ labor was just the incidental cost of that regulation, rather than itself an object of the officials’ scheme. We therefore reverse the convictions.”

Because the fraud convictions are overturned, the officials’ conspiracy convictions also must fall, Kagan said in a footnote.

The case is Kelly v. United States.

Hat tip to SCOTUSblog.

See also:

ABAJournal.com: “Crosstown traffic: SCOTUS considers ‘Bridgegate’ prosecutions”

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