‘Bridgegate’ Defendant Wants to Be Freed During Appeal

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) -
supreme court bridgegate
Bill Baroni leaving federal court in Newark after sentencing, in March 2017. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s one-time appointee asked a federal court Monday to be released from prison following a major development in the George Washington Bridge lane-closing case.

Bill Baroni’s attorneys said in a brief filed in U.S. District Court that the government does not oppose his release on bail from prison, pending the U.S. Supreme Court’s review of the case. The convictions stem from the 2013 closure of lanes to the bridge connecting New Jersey and New York as part of a political payback scheme.

The Supreme Court said Friday it would hear the appeal from Baroni and another former Christie aide, Bridget Kelly, in the fall. Baroni was not initially part of the appeal, but has since been permitted to join Kelly’s effort to overturn their 2016 convictions.

Baroni began an 18-month sentence in April. Kelly was set to report to prison early this month. It’s unclear whether the Supreme Court’s decision will affect her reporting to prison.

Kelly and Baroni have said they’re grateful the Supreme Court is hearing their appeal and are hopeful the court will find no crime was committed.

Both Baroni and Kelly had their sentences reduced after an appeals court tossed out civil rights convictions last fall. They were also convicted on wire fraud charges for their role in shutting down the bridge’s local lanes in Fort Lee, New Jersey, just as the school year was beginning — causing gridlock in the town.

Baroni was the deputy executive director at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which oversees the region’s airports, bridges and tunnels including the George Washington Bridge. Kelly served as Christie’s deputy chief of staff. She authored a now-infamous email that included the line “time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”

The town’s mayor, a Democrat, declined to endorse Christie, a Republican, for his re-election in 2013. Christie was courting Democrats as part of an effort to show he had cross-party appeal.

Christie has denied any wrongdoing and wasn’t charged. Following the developments in the case Friday, Christie said in an appearance Friday on ABC that he has always thought the prosecution was political and that no crimes had been committed.

The scandal generated negative headlines for Christie and played a role in his failed 2016 presidential campaign, with his rivals using it to attack the two-term governor. Then-candidate Donald Trump, for example, said on the trail that Christie knew about the bridge closure — something Christie always denied.

David Wildstein, another former Port Authority official, pleaded guilty and testified for prosecutors during the trial. He was convicted and sentenced to probation, and now operates a New Jersey politics news site.