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Jan 18, 12:29 PM EST

Prosecutors: Convictions in lane-closing trial should stand

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) -- The corruption convictions of two former aides to Republican Gov. Chris Christie in the George Washington Bridge lane-closing scandal should stand despite their claims that the government didn't prove the scheme was politically motivated, federal prosecutors wrote in a court filing.

The filing late Tuesday was in response to motions by Bridget Kelly and Bill Baroni, who were convicted in November of deliberately causing traffic jams near the bridge, to punish a Democratic mayor who didn't endorse Christie in 2013.

They argued that the government built its entire case around showing that Kelly, Christie's former deputy chief of staff, and Baroni, his appointee to a top position at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, engaged in political retaliation.

Then when it came time for the jury to deliberate, they claimed, the judge erred by telling jurors the government didn't have to prove motive for them to find the defendants guilty.

Prosecutors wrote Tuesday that under conspiracy law, they aren't required to prove any motive behind the acts in question.

"The Government introduced overwhelming evidence to support its factual allegations that Defendants sought to punish Mayor Sokolich, but that was simply the explanation for their conduct," they wrote. "But, as this Court previously held, motive was not an essential element of any of the charged offenses that required proof beyond a reasonable doubt."

Prosecutors also dismissed the defendants' argument that the government twisted federal law to criminalize actions - realigning lanes near the country's busiest bridge - that were, at worst, ill-advised or possibly unethical.

Baroni and Kelly cited a Massachusetts case in which a federal appeals court overturned the convictions of three people in a state-level hiring scheme and ruled prosecutors overreached by charging them with federal crimes.

That case "is a run-of-the-mill failure of proof case whose facts revolve around a state agency's hiring practices and therefore are entirely unrelated to the facts of this case," prosecutors wrote.

Kelly and Baroni are scheduled to be sentenced next month. Christie wasn't charged in the scheme, but testimony during the trial appeared to cast doubt on his previous statements about when, and how much, he knew about it.

A sentencing date hasn't been set for David Wildstein, a former Port Authority official and high school classmate of Christie's who pleaded guilty in 2015 and testified against Baroni and Kelly.

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