Pedestrian cross a street near the George Washington Bridge in New York City on March 24. Two aides to former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie were involved in a 2013 scandal, later termed "Bridgegate," that closed off two lanes on the New Jersey side of the bridge as political retribution. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo
May 7 (UPI) -- In a unanimous decision Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned two fraud convictions for former aides to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie that stemmed from the "Bridgegate" scandal seven years ago.
Bridget Ann Kelly and Bill Baroni orchestrated the closure of two local access lanes on the New Jersey side of the George Washington Bridge for three days in 2013 after the mayor of Fort Lee, N.J., failed to support Christie's re-election bid.
The move was intended to create large traffic jams to disrupt the flow into Fort Lee.
The high court wrote in its 15-page opinion that former deputy chief of staff Kelly and Baroni, Christie's deputy executive director at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, could not be prosecuted under federal fraud laws.
The ruling overturns a decision by a U.S. District Court that upheld their convictions.
Kelly's attorney had argued that the move to close two traffic lanes was motivated by politics, and doesn't constitute fraud.
"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 [under federal corruption law]," Justice Elena Kagan wrote for the court. "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."
"As Kelly's own lawyer acknowledged, this case involves an 'abuse of power,'" Kagan added. "The evidence the jury heard no doubt shows wrongdoing -- deception, corruption, abuse of power. But the federal fraud statutes at issue do not criminalize all such conduct."
Kelly and Baroni have been free pending the Supreme Court decision. Baroni had served three months of an 18-month sentence in federal prison.
David Wildstein, a former Port Authority official, pleaded guilty in a deal with prosecutors to testify at trial in 2014 against the two aides.