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‘Bridgegate’ defendant being freed amid high court appeal

NEWARK, NJ - MARCH 29: Bill Baroni, former deputy executive director of The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, arrives at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Federal Courthouse on March 29, 2017 in Newark, New Jersey. Bridget Anne Kelly and Bill Baroni, former allies of Gov. Chris Christie are scheduled to be sentenced for their roles to close access lanes to the George Washington Bridge as political payback against a New Jersey mayor who declined to endorse Mr. Christie's re-election. (Photo by Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images)

TRENTON — A former Chris Christie appointee convicted in the George Washington Bridge lane closure scandal is set to be freed from prison after a federal judge ordered his release Monday pending an appeal before the U.S. Supreme Court.

U.S. District Judge Susan Wigenton signed the 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; a message has been left with his attorneys.

Bridget Kelly was also convicted in the 2013 scheme, commonly called Bridgegate, and was due to report for a 13-month sentence on July 10.

Her attorneys asked the judge to postpone that in light of the high court’s decision Fridayto review the case in the fall. In a letter to the court, her attorney says the government does not object to postponing the date she reports to prison.

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 now operates a New Jersey politics news site.

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