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Menendez Corruption Trial Begins, Could Take Several Weeks

Prosecutor says senator ‘sold his office,’ defense attorney says there was no crime, just friendship

The federal corruption trial of Sen. Bob Menendez began in Newark yesterday with the presentation of opening arguments.

Outlining the government’s case that Menendez (D-NJ) was involved in a seven-year bribery scheme with co-defendant Salomon Melgen, a wealthy Florida ophthalmologist and businessman, federal prosecutor Peter Koski told the jury that the senator “sold his office.”

Menendez is accused of accepting gifts, trips, and campaign contributions from Melgen in return for favors, such as helping Melgen to fight a Medicare fraud charge, assisting him with a cargo screening contract in the Dominican Republic, and helping to get visas for three of Melgen’s girlfriends.

According to Koski, “The reason he received all those flights, vacations, and campaign contributions is because he was being bribed.”

Defense attorney Abbe Lowell countered that “acting out of friendship is not uncommon, is not corrupt, and is not a crime.” Rather, he said, Menendez and Melgen have been close friends for 20 years and Menendez’s actions on behalf of his friend were out of friendship and not for money.

Lowell said Menendez helped Melgen with the Medicare fraud case because he was pushing back on a policy he disagreed with. He said the senator pressured the state department for Melgen’s cargo screening contract because he was concerned about the security of cargo entering the United States. On the matter of visas for girlfriends, Lowell told the jury Menendez has helped thousands of people with visa problems. And as for Melgen’s campaign contributions to Menendez, the defense contended they were legal and properly reported.

The trial is expected to last six to eight weeks.

Read the full story on NJTV News Online, a content partner of NJ Spotlight.

Listen to a discussion of the trial’s potential long-lasting implications on The Takeaway at WNYC, a content partner of NJ Spotlight.

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