Guilty no more. Feds seek to dismiss plea by David Wildstein, the mastermind of Bridgegate.

Posted Jun 10, 2020

The nearly seven-year story of Bridgegate came to an end Wednesday and this being New Jersey, there was a surprise twist.

In a letter to the court, the U.S. Attorney’s office asked to dismiss the indictments against former Christie Administration insiders Bridget Anne Kelly and William Baroni — whose convictions were overturned last month by the U.S. Supreme Court — and moved to toss out the guilty plea against David Wildstein, who testified for the government in the bizarre scheme of political retaliation.

“Given the decisions of the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals, Mr. Wildstein, through counsel, is now asserting that he is legally innocent of the offenses to which he pled guilty and that his conviction should be vacated,” wrote assistant U.S. Attorney Lee Cortes Jr. in a letter to federal District Judge Susan Wigenton, who tried the case. “The United States does not oppose that relief, which, if granted, would make dismissal of the information against Mr. Wildstein proper with leave of court.”

With the proposed order, expected to be signed by Wigenton, the slate will be wiped clean for all three.

A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office declined comment.

The order will finally close the book on the high-profile case that began in September 2013, when traffic lanes at the George Washington Bridge were deliberately shifted to create massive gridlock in Fort Lee for no other reason than to punish a mayor who had backed away from an endorsement in Gov. Chris Christie’s campaign for re-election that year.

Kelly, 47, who served as deputy chief of staff to Christie, and Baroni, 48, a former GOP state senator the governor named to become the deputy executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, were found guilty in November 2016 of fraud and conspiracy in connection with a scheme to purposely tie up traffic around the George Washington Bridge as retribution.

The admitted architect of the scheme was Wildstein — a former Republican operative then a high-paid Port Authority political appointee working on Christie’s behalf. He testified against Kelly and Baroni at trial, claiming that he knew the lane closures would cause major traffic backups, and saw it as a point of leverage that could be used against Mark Sokolich, the Fort Lee mayor.

Wildstein, 58, agreed to cooperate with prosecutors, pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to probation.

But in an unanimous decision last month, the Supreme Court in May threw out the convictions again Kelly and Baroni. While the court said the two “used deception to reduce Fort Lee’s access lanes to the George Washington Bridge, and thereby jeopardized the safety of the town’s residents,” it found that their actions were not a crime under the statute used to convict them.

“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,” wrote Justice Elena Kagan in an opinion for the court. “The evidence the jury heard no doubt shows wrongdoing — deception, corruption, abuse of power. But the federal fraud statutes at issue do not criminalize all such conduct.”

That decision also meant that Wildstein had pleaded guilty to something that was not a crime, necessitating the dismissal of charges against him as well.

In a statement after the Supreme Court decision, Wildstein said: “The conduct by me and others was still wrong. This is not a vindication. My apologies stand, my remorse continues, and I fully accept responsibility for my role.”

He is now the editor of New Jersey Globe, a political news site.

Christie was never charged with any wrongdoing and denied any knowledge of the plan, which was a major factor in his failed 2016 presidential campaign.

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