Political News

Menendez's lawyer: Feds' memo will make filling jury harder

Posted August 31

— Federal prosecutors in U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez's corruption case filed a "lurid and one-sided" brief that could make filling out the jury difficult, the New Jersey Democrat's attorneys said in a recent letter, though the prosecution document doesn't appear to raise new allegations outside the indictment.

Menendez was indicted in 2015, charged with accepting campaign donations and gifts, including vacation trips to Paris and the Dominican Republic, from Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen.

In exchange, according to the indictment, Menendez, 63, used his position in Congress to lobby for Melgen's business interests.

Defense attorney Raymond Brown wrote Wednesday in a letter to Judge William Walls that prosecutors were not required or asked by the court to file the document, which notes that celebrities such as Beyonce and Jay Z also stayed at the luxurious resort in the Dominican Republic at the center of the prosecution's case.

The filing was aimed at getting "adverse" publicity for Menendez, Brown said, adding that the inclusion of the celebrities' names was "irrelevant" and "inflammatory."

"Only after the lengthy, lurid and one-sided narrative of the case, do the prosecutors set out a limited number of issues that the Court might have to address during trial," Brown wrote in the letter.

He says the filing will make it harder to fill an additional jury spot after one juror was excused over financial hardship. The filing will require even more rigorous vetting of jurors, he said, and he added that a similar inquiry of sitting jurors is also needed to determine whether the filing tainted the panel.

The fraud and bribery trial of Menendez, a senator since 2006, and Melgen is scheduled to begin Sept. 6.

The prosecution document, also filed Wednesday, doesn't raise new allegations beyond the April 2015 indictment, which argues that the men were involved in a bribery scheme involving gifts and donations in return for political influence.

Prosecutors included in a footnote that Menendez "sought to amplify the pressure" on the federal government on Melgen's behalf by setting up a meeting with then-Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democratic senator from Nevada. Prosecutors say Reid called a White House aide, but she "demurred." The indictment mentioned Menendez "enlists" Reid's help, but without further detail.

The document also shows that prosecutors don't plan to raise a separate conviction of Melgen's stemming from how his medical practice billed the federal government for a drug.

"In fact, unless the defense opens the door— as it certainly could_or if one of the defendants takes the stand, the Government does not intend to admit the fact of the conviction itself," prosecutors wrote in the filing.

Prosecutors also say that the court should bar the defense from "confusing the jury" by saying that the charges arose from a "global conspiracy" led by the senator's political opponents. Specifically, the prosecutors cite defense arguments that refer to the senator's opposition to President Barack Obama administration's Cuba and Iran policies.

Menendez and Melgen men dispute the allegations. They have argued in court papers that the gifts and donations were innocent and that there was no bribery agreement.

Menendez also says his actions were legitimate legislative duties.

Menendez and Melgen each face three counts of honest services fraud, the most serious charge that carries a maximum 20-year sentence.

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