Judge Declares Mistrial in Menendez Corruption Case

(CN) – The corruption trial of Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., ended in a mistrial Thursday after jurors said they were hopelessly deadlocked on the charges against the lawmaker and a wealthy Florida eye doctor.

In the wake of judge’s decision, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called for an ethics investigation of Menendez, who he described as “one of only twelve U.S. Senators to have been indicted in our history.

“His trial shed light on serious accusations of violating the public’s trust as an elected official, as well as potential violations of the Senate’s Code of Conduct,” McConnell said in a statement. “Because of the seriousness of these charges, I am calling on the Senate Ethics committee to immediately investigate Senator Menendez’s actions which led to his indictment.”

Earlier, McConnell called for an ethics investigation of Sen. Al Franken after sexual harassment claims emerged against him.

U.S. District Judge William Walls declared the mistrial after more than six full days of deliberations that had to be re-started midway through when a juror was replaced.

There was no immediate word on which way the jury was leaning — toward conviction or toward acquittal.

“We cannot reach a unanimous decision,’’ the jury said in a note just before lunch on Thursday. “Nor are we willing to move away from our strong convictions.”

After receiving the note, U.S. District Court Judge William Walls interviewed the jury foreman and several other jurors in chambers, in the presence of the lawyers on the case.

Prosecutors had asked the judge to issue a clarifying instruction to the panel, telling jurors they could reach verdicts on individual counts in the indictment, even if they can’t find agreement on all 18 counts the senator faced.

Judge Walls rejected that suggestion, saying to do so would be “going down the slippery slope of coercion.’’

“There’s no point doing something just to say you’ve done it,’’ Walls said.

The declaration of a mistrial comes after nine weeks of testimony.

Menendez, 63, is accused of using his political influence to help Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen in exchange for luxury vacations in the Caribbean and Paris, flights on Melgen’s private jet and hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions to organizations that supported the senator directly or indirectly.

Prosecutors said Menendez pressured government officials on Melgen’s behalf over an $8.9 million Medicare billing dispute and a stalled contract to provide port screening equipment in the Dominican Republic, and also helped obtain U.S. visas for the doctor’s girlfriends.

The defense argued that the gifts were not bribes but tokens of friendship between two men who were “like brothers.”

Menendez’s lawyers contended also that the government failed to establish a direct connection between Melgen’s gifts and specific actions taken by the senator.

Melgen is already facing the possibility of a long prison sentence after being convicted in April of bilking Medicare out of as much as $105 million by performing unneeded tests and treatments.

Speaking outside the courthouse, a tearful Menendez thanked his family and attorneys for supporting him throughout the case, and slammed the government for bringing the charges against him.

“The way this case started was wrong, the way it was investigated was wrong, the way it was prosecuted was wrong and the way it was tried was wrong as well,” Menendez said.

Later he said the case taught him much ” about the incredible weight and power of the federal government and how it can crush you if it wants.”

 This story is developing.

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