The federal investigation into lane closures on the George Washington Bridge last year may end in fraud charges for associates of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the New York Times reports.
Prosecutors could bring charges under a federal statute that deals with fraud by members of government agencies that receive at least $10,000 in federal funds, including the state of New Jersey and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the agency responsible for the George Washington Bridge. If U.S. Attorney for New Jersey Paul Fishman issues indictments under the statute, it would represent a rare use of the law, the Times explains:
The statute, Section 666 of Title 18 of the United States Code, concerning theft or bribery in programs receiving federal funds, is commonly used in cases of fraud or embezzlement. But it would be novel, if not unprecedented in New Jersey, for prosecutors to bring charges using the particular clause of the statute being examined in this case, against anyone who “intentionally misapplies property” under the control of the agency.
Bridget Kelly, Christie's deputy chief of staff, infamously wrote an email to a Port Authority official calling for "some traffic problems in Fort Lee" after the town's Democratic mayor, Mark Sokolich, refused to endorse Christie's 2013 re-election campaign. Fort Lee was hard-hit by the September 2013 lane closures on the bridge. At the time, Christie officials publicly maintained that the lane closures were part of a traffic study. Earlier this year, Paul Nunziato, the head of the Port Authority police union, testified that Bill Baroni, Christie's point man at the authority, was correct in asserting that the closures stemmed from a traffic study, but the Times reports that Nunziato recently recanted his statements.
While there's no talk that the governor himself is in legal jeopardy, indictments of his associates could pose significant complications for his expected 2016 presidential bid. Earlier this month, a legislative inquiry into the Bridgegate scandal found that there was "no conclusive evidence" that Christie knew in advance about the lane closures, although the committee's report stated that "when the Governor first learned of the closures and what he was told" remained an "open" question. And while Christie allies seized on the report's "no conclusive evidence" determination, their Bridgegate woes are hardly behind them. Fishman's federal investigation will likely drag into 2015, when Christie will likely announce his intention to seek the Republican nomination for president. Additionally, the Manhattan district attorney and the Securities and Exchange Commission are probing the scandal.