The United States Supreme Court issued a unanimous opinion on May 7, 2020, reversing the convictions of two associates of former Governor Chris Christie. The Defendants, Bridgette Kelly and Bill Baroni had previously been convicted of wire fraud and other related charges resulting from their decision to close portions of the George Washington Bridge for a “traffic study”. In reality, the closure of two of the bridge’s three lanes was done as retribution against the mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey, who had previously refused to endorse governor Chris Christie’s reelection campaign. The impact of the partial closure caused three days of gridlock in Fort Lee. A jury convicted the defendants under the government’s theory that by using public employees to conduct a fraudulent traffic study, they deprived the government of its right to the time and labor of its employees.
The Supreme Court ultimately rejected this theory. Writing for the majority, Justice Elena Kagan conceded that the evidence the jury heard no doubt shows wrongdoing — deception, corruption, abuse of power.” However, she noted that the defendant could only be held accountable under the statute if the government showed that the object or purpose of the fraudulent scheme was to obtain money or property from the Port Authority. Here, the object of the scheme was political retribution. And while the cost to the Port Authority was an “incidental (even if foreseen) byproduct of [the Defendants’] regulatory objective.” The court concluded their opinion as follows:
This case involves an ‘abuse of power.’ For no reason other than political payback, Baroni and Kelly used deception to reduce Fort Lee’s access lanes to the George Washington Bridge—and thereby jeopardized the safety of the town’s residents. But not every corrupt act by state or local officials is a federal crime. Because the scheme here did not aim to obtain money or property, Baroni and Kelly could not have violated the federal-program fraud or wire fraud laws.
The entire opinion is available at this link:
The rule can be succinctly stated: chicanery is allowed by law, of no money or property interest is involved.
Should you have any questions regarding this opinion, or have an interest in securing counsel in a white collar case, please feel free to contact the Law Offices of James A.H. Bell, P.C. for resolution of any legal dispute on this and other issues relating to an investigation or charges. Our phone number is 865 637 2900. You may email me at email@example.com.