Conspirators list in bridge case may have wide implications

AP News
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Posted: May 16, 2016 4:55 PM

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — A last-ditch attempt by a person connected to the 2013 George Washington Bridge lane-closing scandal to delay the release of a list of unindicted co-conspirators has kept from public view a piece of information that is expected to reverberate in several quarters if it is released.

The list is scheduled to be released by noon Tuesday unless a federal appeals court extends the deadline.

Here are some things to know about the list and its contents:

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WHAT'S AN UNINDICTED CO-CONSPIRATOR?

An unindicted co-conspirator is someone who was involved in a conspiracy to commit a crime but hasn't been criminally charged. It is not, experts say and contrary to some interpretations, someone who merely knew about a conspiracy.

"A co-conspirator means you're part of the criminal conspiracy — you're in it like the others," said Bradley Simon, a white-collar defense attorney and former federal prosecutor.

Also, just because unindicted co-conspirators aren't facing criminal charges now doesn't mean they couldn't eventually, Simon said.

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WHY DO PROSECUTORS USE THEM?

Unindicted co-conspirators can be people who were involved in a conspiracy but whom prosecutors don't feel they have enough evidence against to gain a conviction. They also can be people who haven't been indicted because they are cooperating with the government.

Of greater importance to prosecutors, Simon and other defense attorneys say, is that under an exception to the hearsay evidence rule, statements by an unindicted co-conspirator can be allowed at a trial without having to put the person on the witness stand.

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RELEASING THE NAMES: PROS AND CONS

An attorney for John Doe, who is seeking to block the list's release, argued in court filings that publishing it would unfairly brand her client as a criminal without giving him the chance to prove otherwise, in violation of due process protections.

Attorneys representing several media organizations, including The Associated Press, have argued that the public interest in seeing the list outweighs privacy concerns and that due process doesn't extend to protecting a person's reputation.

In a letter Monday to the judge who originally ordered the list's release last week, attorney Bruce Rosen requested that, if the appeals court sides with John Doe, the list be released with his name redacted.

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WHAT COULD THE LIST OF UNINDICTED CO-CONSPIRATORS REVEAL?

If the list is made public, it could provide insight into the government's case against two former allies of Republican Gov. Chris Christie who were indicted last year and face trial this fall.

It also could contradict the findings of a taxpayer-funded report by a Christie-hired law firm that placed most of the blame on former Christie deputy chief of staff Bridget Kelly, one of those indicted, and former Port Authority of New York and New Jersey official David Wildstein, who has pleaded guilty.

The conclusion of the 360-page report issued by Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher in 2014 exonerated Christie and found "no evidence that anyone else in the Office of the Governor, besides Kelly, had any advance knowledge of the lane realignment or was otherwise involved in orchestrating or approving it."

Several key players, including Kelly, Wildstein and Bill Baroni, the former Port Authority executive indicted with Kelly, declined to be interviewed by the law firm.

If the list includes current or former officials of the Port Authority, the operator of bridges, tunnels, airports and ports in the New York region, it could further damage the reputation of an agency whose public image has been battered by the bridge scandal and several spinoff investigations into possible conflicts of interest and backroom dealing.