US Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) continues to fight the federal corruption charges that have been hanging over him since last year. Menendez and Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen each face several bribery counts each, stemming from two donations of $20,000 that Melgen made to a legal defense fund that served to benefit Menendez.
In January, Menendez filed documents in federal appeals court that seek to overturn the decision of a judge in September that upheld the majority of the counts in an indictment that was unsealed early last year against Menendez and one of his wealthy campaign donors.
The bribery allegedly was done in exchange for assisting Melgen in Medicare disputes that are worth millions of dollars.
Four counts in the indictment of the senator – two against Menendez and two against the eye doctor – were thrown out last year. However, more than a dozen corruption charges between the two men still stand.
In the filing this month, Menendez stated that constitutional law protects a sitting congressperson from being prosecuted from any legislative acts. He also noted that there is not any evidence that any corruption existed between he and Melgen. The federal government continues to investigate Menendez nonetheless.
Corruption Charges Date Back to April 2015
It was in the spring of 2015 that federal prosecutors first charged Menendez and his wealthy patron with bribery. The federal charges at the time stated that the senior senator from New Jersey used his office to provide benefits to the eye doctor – in exchange for almost $1 million in gifts and various campaign contributions.
The federal charges were laid out in a 68 page indictment that included 14 criminal counts against the senator. The charges included eight counts of bribery for Menendez and eight counts of bribery for Melgen.
After the charges first surfaced, Menendez angrily denied the federal prosecutors’ case and said that he would not leave the Senate. He noted that at the end of the investigation, he would be vindicated and the politically motivated nature of the charges against him would be exposed.
After the federal charges were made public, Menendez told Sen. Harry Reid that he would step down as the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Federal prosecutors revealed an extensive account of Menendez’s relationship with Melgen that spanned from 2006 until 2013. During this period, court documents stated, the doctor gave many gifts to the senator, while Menendez allegedly used the power of his office to influence the decision on contractual and Medicare billing issues that totalled several million dollars.
Also, federal prosecutors alleged that the senator tried to get visa approvals for three girlfriends associated with Melgen.
In return, it is alleged that the senator accepted several flights on the private plane of the doctor, as well as vacations at Melgen’s property in the Dominican Republic and in Paris. It also was alleged that Menendez accepted $40,000 from Melgen in his legal defense fund and at least $750,000 in campaign contributions from the doctor.
Prosecutors stated that the senator did not disclose any of these gifts on financial disclosure forms.
Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell told the media that government corruption at any level erodes the public’s trust of government and weakens democracy.
Friends Rally to Menendez’s Side
However, soon after the federal charges were released, several state and national friends of the NJ senator came to his defense.
One was Democratic Senator Cory Booker from New Jersey who stated that Menendez was a very strong friend, resource and mentor. He said that the system of justice in the US is supposed to be impartial and fair, and that it should presume innocence before guilt. He added that he would stand along Menendez and would always defend him from unfair charges.
Another friend, Ross Baker, a political science professor from Rutgers University, noted that the senior senator is very tough and tenacious, and would not concede anything to detractors accusing him of criminal wrongdoing.
In the past, Menendez has been able to discredit corruption allegations, but he never faced before such a long list of criminal charges.
Prosecutors stated that Menendez had tried to influence government officials in the past to benefit his benefactor.
In one of the cases in the federal indictment, Menendez blocked US Customs and Border Protection from giving screening equipment to the Dominican Republic to help with monitoring shipping containers. Prosecutors allege that his goal was to protect the doctor’s multi million dollar contract to provide that service to ports in the Dominican.
FBI Investigation Dates to 2012
The FBI first looked into the activities of the senator after they received erroneous information that he had used prostitutes while he was vacationing in the Dominican Republic.
However, it is clear that Melgen and his company have given hundreds of thousands of dollars to the senator, and also other Democratic senators. He also gave Menendez free airplane trips to the Dominican in 2010.
Further, in Jan. 2013, Menendez paid more than $58,500 to reimburse the doctor for two plane trips. Menendez stated that he had not paid for or reported the flights earlier because of an oversight. A year later, he then reimbursed the doctor for $11,000 for a third flight.
Menendez argues that he and the doctor are friends and have been for more than 20 years, and simply celebrate holidays together and give each other presents just as any friends would do.
About Federal Corruption Charges
Federal corruption charges involving elected public officials are considered some of the most serious white collar crimes in the US. Federal corruption laws state that government officials may not ask for, demand, solicit, accept or agree to receive anything of value in return for changing their performance of duties in any way. Corruption and bribery are closely related; the latter is the federal charge used when a public official offers an item of value to get any type of illicit advantage.
Public corruption charges that result in a conviction can involve a prison sentence and a fine that is commensurate with what the money, goods or services in the case are worth. Federal corruption charges often result in long prison sentences.