'Bridgegate' defendant Bill Baroni ordered freed as appeal heads to high court

A former top official at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey convicted for his role in the George Washington Bridge lane closure scandal was ordered released from federal prison Monday as an appeal of the case heads to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Bill Baroni, the agency's former deputy executive director, had started serving an 18-month sentence in April. The Supreme Court announced Friday that it would hear an appeal of Baroni's conviction as well as that of Bridget Kelly, former deputy chief of staff for then-New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

Bill Baroni is pictured during his federal 'Bridgegate' trial in the fall of 2016. (AP Photo/Rich Schultz)

Bill Baroni is pictured during his federal 'Bridgegate' trial in the fall of 2016. (AP Photo/Rich Schultz) (The Associated Press)

Attorneys for Kelly, who was due to report for a 13-month sentence on July 10, asked U.S. District Judge Susan Wigenton to postpone that in light of the high court's announcement.

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Baroni and Kelly were found guilty in November 2016 of charges stemming from the 2013 closure of lanes to the bridge connecting New Jersey and New York as part of a political payback scheme. The bridge's local lanes serving Fort Lee, N.J. were shut down after the town's mayor, a Democrat, declined to endorse the Republican Christie for re-election in 2013. Christie was courting Democrats as part of an effort to show he had cross-party appeal.

The George Washington Bridge announced it was cracking down on traffic and congestion.

The George Washington Bridge announced it was cracking down on traffic and congestion. (Reuters)

Baroni was originally sentenced to 24 months in prison, while Kelly received 18 months in jail. Those sentences were reduced after an appeals court tossed out civil rights convictions last fall, but convictions for misusing property of an organization receiving federal benefits and wire fraud were upheld.

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

Christie has denied any wrongdoing and wasn't charged in connection with the closures, which were dubbed "Bridgegate." Following the developments in the case Friday, Christie said in an appearance Friday on ABC's "The View" that he has always thought the prosecution was political and that no crimes had been committed.

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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 now operates a New Jersey politics news site.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.