$600K in political donations eyed at Menendez bribery trial
Posted October 4
NEWARK, N.J. — Prosecutors at the bribery trial of U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez presented evidence Wednesday that a wealthy friend contributed $600,000 to political organizations that supported the New Jersey Democrat, part of what they contend was a two-way arrangement in which Menendez offered his political influence in return.
Florida ophthalmologist Salomon Melgen made two contributions of $300,000 each, in June and October of 2012, a fundraiser for a Democratic political action committee testified as the trial concluded its fifth week.
Other witnesses have described meetings between Menendez and officials in the executive branch on issues surrounding Medicare reimbursement policies and port security in the Dominican Republic.
An indictment charging Menendez and Melgen with conspiracy, fraud and bribery alleges Menendez arranged those meetings to lobby on behalf of Melgen in an $8.9 million Medicare dispute and a stalled contract for port screening equipment involving a company Melgen owned.
A former acting administrator at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services testified that she met with Menendez in June 2012, during which Menendez urged her to take a look at Medicare's reimbursement policy on treating multiple patients from the same vial of medicine, an issue at the heart of Melgen's dispute.
Defense attorneys contend the timing of the meetings and the donations — as well as trips on Melgen's private jet Menendez took to Melgen's home in the Dominican Republic — was coincidental and not part of a bribery scheme. The two men have known each other for more than 20 years.
Their cross-examination of witnesses who attended the meetings regarding Medicare policy — including former Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius — revealed that Melgen wasn't mentioned at the meetings, though the witnesses testified they felt Melgen's dispute was the underlying reason for the meetings.
Menendez, who has attended every day of the trial since it began on Sept. 6, left after Wednesday's proceeding for what he said was a meeting at the White House with President Donald Trump's security advisers. He said he also planned to speak on the Senate floor about his trip last weekend to hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico.
Before the trial began, U.S. District Judge William Walls denied Menendez's requests to have the trial recessed on days of important Senate votes.