Another example of the lower courts not stepping up and letting prosecutors run wild using fraud statutes.
For four days in September 2013, traffic ground to a halt in Fort Lee, New Jersey. The cause was an unannounced realignment of 12 toll lanes leading to the George Washing-ton Bridge, an entryway into Manhattan administered by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. For decades, three of those access lanes had been reserved during morning rush hour for commuters coming from the streets of Fort Lee. But on these four days—with predictable consequences—only a single lane was set aside. The public officials who ordered that change claimed they were reducing the number of dedicated lanes to conduct a traffic study.In fact, they did so for a political reason—to punish the mayor of Fort Lee for refusing to support the New Jersey Governor’s reelection bid. Exposure of their behavior led to the criminal convictions we review here. The Government charged the responsible officials under the federal statutes prohibiting wire fraud and fraud on a federally funded program or entity. See 18 U. S. C. §§1343, 666(a)(1)(A). Both those laws target fraudulent schemes for obtaining property. See §1343 (barring fraudulent schemes “for obtaining money or property”);§666(a)(1)(A) (making it a crime to “obtain by fraud . . . property”). The jury convicted the defendants, and the lower courts upheld the verdicts.The question presented is whether the defendants com-mitted property fraud. The evidence the jury heard no doubt shows wrongdoing—deception, corruption, abuse of power. But the federal fraud statutes at issue do not criminalize all such conduct. Under settled precedent, the offi-cials could violate those laws only if an object of their dis-honesty was to obtain the Port Authority’s money or property. The Government contends it was, because the officials sought both to “commandeer” the Bridge’s access lanes and to divert the wage labor of the Port Authority employees used in that effort. Tr. of Oral Arg. 58. We disagree. The realignment of the toll lanes was an exercise of regulatory power—something this Court has already held fails to meet the statutes’ property requirement. And the employees’ labor was just the incidental cost of that regulation, rather than itself an object of the officials’ scheme. We therefore reverse the convictions.