Charged with multiple counts of bribery and fraud, Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey avoided a prison sentence on Thursday after a mistrial was declared in his corruption case. Despite the fact that Menendez blatantly accepted lavish gifts in exchange for political favors, the Supreme Court’s decision to vacate former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell’s conviction on similar charges heavily influenced the hung jury.
According to the indictment, between January 2006 and January 2013, Sen. Menendez accepted close to $1 million worth of lavish gifts and campaign contributions from Dr. Salomon Melgen in exchange for using the power of his office to influence Medicare billing disputes worth tens of millions of dollars to Melgen and to support the visa applications of several of Melgen’s girlfriends. Menendez also allegedly pressured executive agencies in connection with a conflict between Melgen and the government of the Dominican Republic relating to a disputed contract that Melgen purchased to provide container screening in Dominican ports.
Besides accepting flights aboard Melgen’s private jet and numerous vacations at his Dominican villa, Menendez also received $40,000 in contributions to his legal defense fund and over $750,000 in campaign contributions. According to the Justice Department, Menendez never disclosed any of the reportable gifts that he received from Melgen on his financial disclosure forms.
On April 28, Melgen was convicted of 67 criminal counts related to his participation in a health care fraud scheme involving the filing of false claims and the inclusion of false entries into patients’ medical charts. He faces a maximum sentence of ten years’ imprisonment for each of the 37 health care fraud counts and five years’ imprisonment for each of the 30 false claims and false entry counts of conviction.
After 11 weeks of Menendez’s corruption trial, the deadlocked jury sent a note to the judge on Thursday that read, “We cannot reach a unanimous decision on any of the charges, nor are we willing to move away from our strong convictions.”
Following the judge’s decision to declare a mistrial, Menendez exited the court and accused the FBI of employing racist agents. The senator told reporters, “Certain elements of the FBI and of our state cannot understand or even worse accept that the Latino kid from Union City in Hudson County can grow up to be a United States Senator and be honest.”
Menendez went on to threaten, “To those who were digging my political grave so they could jump into my seat, I know who you are and I won’t forget you.”
Due to the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court vacated Gov. McDonnell’s conviction on similar federal corruption charges last year, the jury in Menendez’s trial was unable to agree on the ill-defined legal restrictions concerning bribing public officials.
On September 4, 2014, a federal jury convicted McDonnell and his wife on public corruption charges. Both McDonnells were convicted of one count of conspiracy to commit honest-services wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to obtain property under color of official right. Bob McDonnell was convicted of three counts of honest-services wire fraud and six counts of obtaining property under color of official right. Maureen McDonnell was convicted of two counts of honest-services wire fraud counts and four counts of obtaining property under color of official right.
Two years later, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously vacated the former governor’s conviction despite the fact that he clearly accepted gifts in exchange for political favors. The Justice Department later announced that they would not seek another prosecution and moved to dismiss the charges against McDonnell and his wife.
Instead of protecting citizens against corrupt politicians, the U.S. Supreme Court has once again failed to protect democracy in the face of insurmountable greed and avarice. Federal prosecutors have not said whether they will seek to retry Menendez, who is running for reelection next year.
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