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Bridge defendant freed, another spared prison pending appeal

July 1, 2019
FILE - This combination of March 29, 2017, file photos shows Bridget Kelly, left, leaving federal court after sentencing in Newark, N.J., and Bill Baroni leaving federal court after sentencing in Newark. Baroni’s lawyer filed a motion Monday, July 1, 2019, seeking to have him released on bail after The U.S. Supreme Court agreed last Friday to hear an appeal in the fall in his George Washington Bridge lane-closing case. The case involved Baroni, who was deputy executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and Christie’s former deputy chief of staff, Bridget Kelly. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez, File)

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — A former Chris Christie appointee who was convicted in the George Washington Bridge lane closure scandal is set to be freed from prison and a former Christie aide won’t have to report for her sentence while a U.S. Supreme Court review of their case is pending, a federal judge ruled Monday.

U.S. District Judge Susan Wigenton signed an order shortly after attorneys for Bill Baroni, who had started serving an 18-month sentence in April, filed it. It wasn’t clear Monday afternoon whether he had left prison, and his attorneys didn’t respond to a message seeking an update.

The judge also said Bridget Kelly would not have to report for a 13-month sentence on July 10 for her role in the 2013 scheme, commonly called Bridgegate.

Baroni’s and Kelly’s attorneys sought reprieves in light of the high court’s decision Friday to review the case in the fall.

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.

Baroni was not initially part of the appeal but has since been permitted to join Kelly’s effort to overturn their 2016 convictions.

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, tunnels and bridges, including the George Washington. 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, had declined to endorse Christie, a Republican, for his re-election as New Jersey governor in 2013. Christie was courting Democrats as part of an effort to show he had cross-party appeal.

Christie has denied wrongdoing and wasn’t charged. Following the developments in the case Friday, Christie said Friday on ABC’s “The View” 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 community service, and now operates a New Jersey politics news site.

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This article has been corrected to show that the former deputy executive director at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s last name is Baroni, not Baron.

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