Thursday, September 21, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Thursday, September 21, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Sen. Menendez Bribery Case Advances in NJ

(CN) - Refusing to toss the high-dollar bribery indictment against U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, a federal judge saw nothing wrong with the grand-jury instructions.

Menendez, a 61-year-old Democrat who has represented New Jersey in Congress since 2006, was indicted on April 1 with a Florida ophthalmologist who contributed to his campaigns.

The indictment alleges that Menendez received hundreds of thousands of dollars - sometimes in flights - to take certain official actions that benefited Dr. Salomon Melgen.

In one instance, prosecutors said, Menendez "used his position as a United States senator to influence the visa proceedings of [Dr. Melgen's] foreign girlfriends."

Menendez is also alleged to have advocated for Melgen's financial interests regarding a private firm's contract dispute with the Dominican Republic, as well as an $8.9 million billing dispute at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Melgen's alleged payments total nearly $800,000, including two $20,000 donations to "a legal defense trust fund" benefitting Menendez; $40,000 to the New Jersey Democratic State Committee Victory federal account; two $300,000 donations to Majority PAC "earmarked for the New Jersey Senate race"; and $103,500 to various county Democratic Party entities.

After Senior U.S. District Judge William Walls refused to let Menendez boot the case from Newark, N.J., to Washington, D.C., the defendants filed 15 motions to dismiss.

Walls advanced the case with six separate decisions Sept. 28.

One of the rulings rejects Menendez's attempts to characterize the evidence against him as inadmissible legislative acts.

Such evidence includes emails setting up a meeting between the senator and an assistant secretary about cargo from the Dominican Republic entering U.S. ports, communication that prosecutors say meant to lobby to delay planned official action.

Another portion of the indictment concerns a Medicare policy meeting between Menendez and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

"Sebelius told Sen. Menendez that she had no power to influence Melgen's case because it was in the administrative appeals process," the 32-page opinion states. "It is quite clear that this was an attempt to influence CMS rather than an attempt to gather legislative information."

Walls added that, "even if this court were to accept Sen. Menendez's argument that the Medicare reimbursement policy issues and Dominican Republic port security issues are immunized, the unchallenged visa advocacy would still provide an adequate basis for the conspiracy charge."

Later in the ruling, Walls rejects claims that the feds improperly instructed the grand jury.

"Accepting for the sake of argument defendants' contention that the government failed to explain to the grand jurors that they should disregard material that was privileged by the Speech or Debate Clause, the court has already determined that there was no protected material," Walls wrote.

The other five rulings Walls issued total 73 pages. They involve motions to dismiss based on alleged violations of the First Amendment, prosecutorial misconduct and grand jury bias. Walls also blazed through motions to suppress evidence and have the government file a bill of 52 particulars.

Walls did side with the defendants on one issue, agreeing that the indictment violates the First Amendment by charging "efforts to influence" as a crime.

On this point, Menendez and Melgen said prosecutors failed to allege an explicit quid pro quo.

Kirk Ogrosky, one of Melgen's lawyers, said he was pleased that the court struck all references to the Menendez trust fund to which Melgen contributed.

"At the end of the day, Dr. Melgen committed no crime and we look forward to him being vindicated," Ogrosky added.

Menendez will keep fighting, defense attrorney Abbe David Lowell voewed.

"The senator has been clear from the very beginning that he has always acted in accordance with the law and that, once all of the facts are presented in court, he is confident that he will be exonerated," Lowell said in an email.

Noting that five motions remain undecided, Lowell added that "there are still additional challenges pending in which decisions could impact the viability of other charges in the case."

U.S. Department of Justice spokesman Peter Carr declined to comment on the rulings.

Categories / Uncategorized

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.