Published: Tue, October 17, 2017
Worldwide | By Gretchen Simon

Judge declines to dismiss bribery charges against US Senator Menendez

Judge declines to dismiss bribery charges against US Senator Menendez

The defense seized on that ruling to argue that much of what Menendez is accused of consisted of meetings with public officials, including Iowa Senator Tom Harkin, who met with Melgen at Menedez's urging because Harkin was in a position to help change Medicare billing laws.

But after prosecutors rested their case last week, defense lawyers said the evidence did not meet the higher legal standard established by the U.S. Supreme Court's 2016 decision that threw out bribery charges against Robert McDonnell, the former Virginia governor.

On Monday, US District Judge William Walls rejected the defense lawyers' motion to drop the charges. Melgen's wife also testified that the men were close and that Menendez attended their daughter's wedding in the Dominican Republic.

Prosecutors say that Menendez accepted free flights on a private jet and other gifts from a wealthy Florida doctor in exchange for lobbying the government on his friend's behalf and securing improper Medicare reimbursements.

After the prosecution rested its case, Menendez moved for judgment of acquittal, pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29.

This is the second time Menendez's request to dismiss the charges has been denied.

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The defense had argued the bribery charges should be dismissed, because prosecutors don't have a proverbial "smoking gun" and no explicit proof that Menendez agreed to perform an official favor in exchange for a specific gift.

But prosecutors said the Supreme Court's McDonnell ruling did not foreclose cases like this one.

In return, the government said, Menendez helped get visas for Melgen's girlfriends, aided a Melgen-owned company with a contract worth millions for port security in the Dominican Republic, and leaned on federal regulators after Melgen was accused of overbilling Medicare for almost $9 million. Menendez's defense team will now begin presenting its case.

"Menendez withheld information from his senate staff to hide the extent of his official action on Melgen", prosecutors also alleged.

A judge could rule on Monday whether to dismiss part of the indictment against the New Jersey Democrat.

If Menendez is convicted, he could face up to 20 years in prison for the most serious charge of honest services fraud.

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