Tags: menendez trial | new jersey | fraud charges | bribery

Prosecutors: Menendez 'Sold His Office' for Ritzy Trips

Image: Prosecutors: Menendez 'Sold His Office' for Ritzy Trips
U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez was indicted in 2015 and faces multiple fraud and bribery charges in a case that could threaten his political career and potentially the makeup of a deeply divided Senate if he's convicted. (Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

Wednesday, 06 September 2017 02:09 PM

U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez "sold his office for a lifestyle he couldn't afford" by accepting luxury trips from a wealthy doctor seeking political influence in return, a government prosecutor told jurors Wednesday during opening statements of the Democrat's corruption trial.

Menendez, New Jersey's senior U.S. senator, later lied about the trips on Senate disclosure forms, Justice Department attorney Peter Koski said as he laid out the government's case against Menendez and the doctor, Florida ophthalmologist Salomon Melgen.

The two were indicted in 2015 and face multiple fraud and bribery charges in a case that could threaten Menendez's political career and potentially the makeup of a deeply divided U.S. Senate if he's convicted.

Both men have pleaded not guilty. Menendez said before entering the courthouse Wednesday: "Not once have I dishonored my public office."

Defense attorneys were scheduled to give their opening statements later Wednesday.

Koski described Menendez pressuring government officials to help Melgen with securing visas for his foreign girlfriends, a lucrative port security contract in the Dominican Republic and a multimillion-dollar Medicare dispute. Individually and through his company, Melgen also contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to Menendez's legal defense fund and entities that supported his re-election.

"He went to bat when Dr. Melgen asked, and Dr. Melgen asked frequently," said Koski, who discounted defense lawyers' contention in court filings that the trips were innocent gifts between friends. "There's no friendship exception to bribery. There's no friendship exception to breaking the law."

Defense lawyers say that the trips were examples of friends vacationing together, that most of Melgen's contributions went to committees Menendez didn't control and that he didn't control the people he lobbied on Melgen's behalf.

Flanked by his two adult children and at times choking back tears, Menendez said outside court Wednesday: "I started my public career fighting corruption — that's how I started — and I have always acted in accordance with the law.

"And I believe when all the facts are known, I will be vindicated," Menendez said.

Menendez is up for re-election next year. If he is convicted and steps down or is forced out of the Senate by a two-thirds majority vote before Gov. Chris Christie leaves office Jan. 16, the Republican governor would pick a successor. A Democrat has a large polling and financial advantage in November's election to replace Christie.

Menendez said he plans to be at the trial daily but will decide whether to return to Washington to cast votes in the Senate based on the issue and whether his vote could make a difference. The judge last week ruled against an attempt by Menendez to pause the trial on days when important Senate votes were scheduled.

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U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez "sold his office for a lifestyle he couldn't afford" by accepting luxury trips from a wealthy doctor seeking political influence in return, a government prosecutor told jurors Wednesday during opening statements of the Democrat's corruption trial.
menendez trial, new jersey, fraud charges, bribery
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2017-09-06
Wednesday, 06 September 2017 02:09 PM
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