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United States v. Baroni

United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

April 24, 2018, Argued; November 27, 2018, Opinion Filed

No. 17-1817, No. 17-1818

Opinion

 [*555]  OPINION OF THE COURT

SCIRICA, Circuit Judge

Defendants William E. Baroni, Jr. and Bridget Anne Kelly engaged in a scheme to impose crippling gridlock on the Borough of Fort Lee, New Jersey, after Fort Lee's mayor refused to endorse the 2013 reelection bid of then-Governor Chris Christie. To this end, under the guise of conducting a "traffic study," Baroni and Kelly, among others, conspired to limit Fort Lee motorists' access to the George Washington Bridge—the world's busiest [**2]  bridge—over four days in early September 2013: the first week of Fort Lee's school year. This scheme caused vehicles to back up into the Borough, creating intense traffic jams. Extensive media coverage ensued, and the scandal became known as "Bridgegate."

 [*556]  In 2015, a grand jury indicted Baroni and Kelly for their role in the scheme. Each Defendant was charged with seven counts: conspiracy to obtain by fraud, knowingly convert, or intentionally misapply property of an organization receiving federal benefits, 18 U.S.C. § 371, and the substantive offense, id. § 666(a)(1)(A); conspiracy to commit wire fraud, id. § 1349, and two counts of the substantive offense, id. § 1343; and conspiracy against civil rights, id. § 241, and the substantive offense, id. § 242. A jury convicted Defendants on all counts. They appeal only their judgments of conviction.

For reasons that follow, we will affirm Defendants' judgments of convictions on the wire fraud and Section 666 counts but will reverse and vacate their civil rights convictions.

In 2010, then-New Jersey Governor Chris Christie appointed Baroni to serve as Deputy Executive Director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. That same year, David Wildstein—a cooperating witness in this case3—was hired [**3]  to serve as the Port Authority's Director of Interstate Capital Projects, in which capacity he functioned as Baroni's chief of staff.

Among its many functions, the Port Authority operates the George Washington Bridge, a double-decked suspension bridge connecting the Borough of Fort Lee, New Jersey, and New York City across the Hudson River. On the bridge's upper deck, twelve toll lanes carry traffic from New Jersey into New York. During the morning rush hour, Port Authority police place traffic cones to reserve the three right-most lanes—the "Special Access Lanes"—for local traffic from Fort Lee. This leaves the other nine lanes for drivers on the "Main Line," which includes traffic from I-80 and I-95. This practice of reserving Special Access Lanes was a decades-long custom dating back to a political deal between a former New Jersey governor and Fort Lee mayor.

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909 F.3d 550 *; 2018 U.S. App. LEXIS 33228 **

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA v. WILLIAM E. BARONI, JR., Appellant UNITED STATES OF AMERICA v. BRIDGET ANNE KELLY, Appellant

Subsequent History: US Supreme Court certiorari granted by Kelly v. United States, 139 S. Ct. 2777, 204 L. Ed. 2d 1156, 2019 U.S. LEXIS 4410 (U.S., June 28, 2019)

Reversed by, Remanded by Kelly v. United States, 2020 U.S. LEXIS 2640 (U.S., May 7, 2020)

Prior History:  [**1] On Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey. (D.C. Nos. 2-15-cr-00193-001 and 2-15-cr-00193-002). District Judge: Honorable Susan D. Wigenton.

United States v. Baroni, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 57844 (D.N.J., May 4, 2015)

CORE TERMS

Defendants', lanes, toll, traffic, wire fraud, convictions, counts, traffic study, motive, Bridge, travel, intentionally, realignment, misapplied, deprived, spent, theft, indictment, employees, reductions, overtime, booths, knowingly, threshold, defraud, staff, jury instructions, converted, violating, salaries

Criminal Law & Procedure, Juries & Jurors, Province of Court & Jury, Credibility of Witnesses, Factual Issues, Weight of Evidence, Standards of Review, De Novo Review, Conclusions of Law, Governments, Legislation, Interpretation, Sufficiency of Evidence, Trials, Motions for Acquittal, Criminal Offenses, Inchoate Crimes, Conspiracy, Fraud, Wire Fraud, Elements, Conspiracy, Penalties, Fraud, Bribery, Public Officials, Theft & Related Offenses, Embezzlement, Burdens of Proof, Prosecution, Harmless & Invited Error, Harmless Error, Evidence, Proof Beyond Reasonable Doubt, Jury Instructions, Jurisdiction & Venue, Jurisdiction, Fraud Against the Government, Constitutional Law, Substantive Due Process, Scope, Civil Rights Law, Criminal Interference With Civil Rights, Protection of Rights, Conspiracy Against Rights, Immunity From Liability, Defenses, Local Officials, Bill of Rights, Courts, Judicial Precedent