Corrupt New Jersey Democrat Senator Menendez: Justice Could Be Served Even if He’s Found Innocent

Jan. 29, 2018
by Bob Adelmann

New Jersey’s corrupt Democrat Senator Bob Menendez will know this week when his retrial on corruption charges will start. His last trial ended with a hung jury: 10-2. He might not be so lucky this time around.

It’s possible that the jurors in the first trial just gave up in exhaustion: the Department of Justice’s prosecuting attorneys threw the book at Menendez, bringing in more than 50 witnesses in an attempt to prove, through circumstance and inference, that gifts that Menendez’s friend, Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen, made to Menendez were payoffs for political favors.

The case against him looked persuasive. The DOJ tried to prove that Menendez intervened with Medicare in order to keep his friend from returning some $9 million in excessive reimbursements; that he pressured federal officials to protect a port security contract held by a company in the Dominican Republic [Melgen is a citizen there and a major investor in the company] from going out to bid; that he was paid off by Melgen with various favors including trips on Melgen’s private jet (which he failed to report as required by the Senate); that Melgen made substantial high-six-figure contributions to Menendez’s reelection campaigns; that Menendez bribed federal officials, committing fraud and making false statements in the process; and more.

Prosecutors also charged that Menendez acted as Melgen’s “personal senator,” helping him obtain visas for several of Melgen’s “girlfriends” [read: prostitutes] from the Dominican Republic to entertain them at Melgen’s private estate in Florida.

Senior U.S. District Judge William Walls no doubt was disappointed that he couldn’t get a conviction. Walls has a decades-long reputation for putting corrupt politicians away for a long, long time. In 2015, Walls imposed a 70-month sentence on a Union County (N.J.) official who admitted stealing $120,000 from the county, writing at the time: “We the people of the United States are sick and tired of political and public officials being on the take.” When pressed by the defendant’s attorneys to be lenient, Walls rejected that request saying that he was tired of requests like that for “people who were corrupt in their public duty.”

Walls has recused himself in Menendez’s retrial but is helping the DOJ’s attorneys in building their new case. When he announced that the jury couldn’t reach a verdict, Menendez’s attorneys, smelling an opportunity, filed a motion to have him dismiss all 18 charges against Menendez. Walls responded in a 50-page brief in which he did in fact dismiss some of the lesser charges but retained the most damaging. He went further: he provided DOJ attorneys with good reasons why:

Regarding the gifts that his friend, Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen, gave Menendez: “A rational juror could find that Melgen gave Menendez gifts intending that Menendez take official actions he would not otherwise take.”

Regarding Menendez’s failure to report those gifts as required by Senate rules: “A rational juror could infer that Menendez knew that he had received the gifts, and knew that he was required to report them.”

The defense has lost a key character witness in the trial: Menendez’s “good friend” Melgen has been convicted of 67 charges of Medicare fraud totaling more than $100 million and is awaiting sentencing that could put him away for up to 30 years. [Note to Menendez’s defense attorneys: Melgen won’t be available to testify as a character witness for your client. Sorry ’bout that.]

It’s going to be tough to prove the charges against Menendez simply because members of the jury will be required to conclude through circumstantial evidence and inference that he engaged in corrupt practices with Melgen. There’s no “smoking gun” or credible third party available to testify against him. So while the upcoming retrial is likely to be much shorter, with fewer charges and fewer witnesses, the result could be the same: another hung jury or perhaps even acquittal. After all, Menendez is a Democratic fixture in corrupt New Jersey politics and has the support of the state’s newly inaugurated governor Phil Murphy.

There is one potentially saving grace, however. If the trial starts in the next couple of months, it could still be going on on June 5, the day of New Jersey’s primary. With lurid daily coverage of the new trial, voters, particularly Democrats, might not want to run the risk of nominating a candidate who just might wind up being a convicted felon come November. That in turn might just open the door for the first Republican since 1972 to represent the Garden State in the Senate.  

In a year of multiple surprises, this is within the realm of possibility.

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Sources:

WashingtonTimes.com: Menendez trial reboot will see something old, new

NJ.com: Senator Menendez exits the frying pan only to enter the fire

Background on Judge Walls

MyPalmBeachPost.com: Eye doc Melgen guilty in one of nation’s biggest Medicare fraud cases

Background on Menendez

Much deeper background on Menendez

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