A federal judge has ruled charges against Democrat Bob Menendez will remain and prosecutors can proceed with a corruption trial against New Jersey’s senior U.S. senator.
U.S. District Court Judge William H. Walls told the court on Monday evidence offered suggested Menendez accepted lavish gifts from a wealthy donor with an expectation of favor.
Menendez’s federal corruption trial began on Sept. 6.
“The jury will decide what happened,” Walls told the court when issuing his ruling.
According to indictment, Menendez accepted gifts from Florida ophthalmologist Salomon Melgen, whose business interests in the Dominican Republic were imperiled.
Prosecutors contend Menendez lobbied the U.S. State Department to persuade the Dominican Republic to enforce a port-security contract to favor Melgen’s firm. Prosecutors also say Menendez also intervened in a $8.9 million Medicare dispute to Melgen’s benefit.
Menendez is also charged with accepting trips to Paris hotels, visits to a Caribbean resort, a round of golf at a private country club and campaign donations. Both Menendez and Melgen say the gifts were gestures of friendship and both deny wrongdoing.
Complicating matters, Menendez failed to report the gifts on annual financial disclosure reports as required by federal ethics laws.
One week ago, attorneys for the senator had argued a Supreme Court ruling related to the corruption trial of former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, which limited what legally accounts for corruption, should serve as a precedent to dismiss bribery charges against Menendez.
Walls dismissed Menendez’s appeal and ruled the most serious charges, bribery, would remain.
On Tuesday, Dr. Melgan’s wife, Flo, testified that her husband had also met in the past with then-Florida Governor Charlie Crist, who ate dinner and stayed-the-night at the couple’s Palm Beach home in October 2010. Crist allegedly gave Ms. Melgan $100 for her hospitality.
Menendez, who faces an 18-count indictment, is not expected to testify in his defense. He faces up to 20 years behind bars if convicted.
[Roll Call] [Reuters] [New York Post] [Photo courtesy Washington Examiner]