May 13, 2020

Supreme Court Overturns “Bridgegate” Convictions

On May 5, 2020, the United States Supreme Court overturned the convictions in the infamous “Bridgegate” scandal. In a unanimous ruling, Justice Elena Kagan called the conduct an abuse of power, but short of fraud under federal law because the object of their conduct was not money or property.

As retribution for the Fort Lee mayor’s refusal to endorse Christie’s gubernatorial re-election bid, staffers, Bridget Anne Kelly and Bill Baroni, blocked access to the George Washington Bridge from the town of Fort Lee, New Jersey. The ensuing four days resulted in massive rush hour gridlock and impeded the ability of Fort Lee residents to enter the highway. The defendants concocted a cover story that the lane changes were for a traffic study, but the defendants’ personal emails and texts revealed that access was blocked for purely political motives.

The defendants were convicted at trial and convictions upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. The defendants appealed to the Supreme Court to decide the issue of whether the defendants received, as a result of their scheme, property, so as to satisfy the standard for the wire fraud and program fraud on which they were convicted.

In overturning the convictions, the Court further explained that federal criminal fraud statutes should not be used by the federal government “to enforce (its view of) integrity in broad swaths of state and local policymaking.” The “Bridgegate” decision is one of the Supreme Court’s recent line of decisions limiting the federal government’s overreaching use of criminal prosecution of public officials. In 2016, the Court overturned, again unanimously, the conviction of former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell, who was accused of accepting lavish gifts from business executives in exchange for arranging meetings and urging staff members to pursue certain request of the executives.

Flannery | Georgalis has significant experience in public corruption and wire fraud matters. We are prepared to aggressively defend individuals and companies being investigated and prosecuted for corruption-related conduct.