Senator Menendez Will Face Retrial on U.S. Bribery Charges

(Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Justice Department intends to retry Senator Robert Menendez on bribery charges after a jury failed to reach a verdict last November and jurors said that a majority believed he wasn’t guilty. 

Prosecutors notified U.S. District Judge William Walls on Friday of their decision to retry Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, along with a Florida eye doctor accused of bribing him in exchange for official favors.

The move to retry the case comes as Menendez prepares a re-election campaign this year in which he is favored and faces no major Republican challenger. Even if Menendez were forced to step down, the seat would likely remain in Democratic hands because it would be filled by New Jersey’s new Democratic governor, Phil Murphy.

Republicans hold a 51-49 majority in the chamber. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has called for an Ethics Committee investigation of Menendez.

“An early retrial date is in the best interests of the public, and the United States is available to schedule a retrial at the court’s earliest convenience,” prosecutors told the judge in a filing on Friday in federal court in Newark, New Jersey.

Jurors’ Sentiments

The decision came two months after Menendez jurors said most members of the panel favored acquitting the senator and the doctor accused of bribing him, Salomon Melgen. The U.S. filed its notice just hours before the government will shut down unless lawmakers reach an agreement on a spending bill.

Menendez, a leading Hispanic lawmaker in Congress, vowed to beat the charges.

“We regret that the DOJ, after spending millions and millions of taxpayer dollars, and failing to prove a single allegation in a court of law, has decided to double down on an unjust prosecution,” Menendez’s office said in a statement. “Evidently, they did not hear the overwhelming voices of the New Jerseyans who served on the jury this fall. Senator Menendez fully intends to be vindicated -- again.”

An attorney for Melgen also said the men shouldn’t be retried.

“We are very disappointed that this Justice Department would retry this case,” said Melgen attorney Kirk Ogrosky. “Anyone who watched the testimony, reviewed the exhibits, and spoke to the jurors and the alternates in the first trial knows that this prosecution was ridiculous and should never have been brought.”

Deadlocked Panel

After Walls declared a mistrial on Nov. 16, juror Edward Norris said that prosecutors had failed to prove their case and that the senator and doctor were friends with no corrupt intent. Norris said the panel favored acquittal on most counts by a 10-2 margin.

“There was no smoking gun in the case,” said Norris, an equipment operator. When prosecutors finished presenting their case, he said, “In my gut I was like, ‘That was it? That’s all they had?’” He also said: “I didn’t think there was anything bad that he did. I just didn’t see it.”

The decision by prosecutors to seek a retrial was not a surprise to Daniel R. Alonso, a former U.S. corruption prosecutor.

“They believed in their case when they brought it,” Alonso said. “They saw how the evidence went in, and they decided they’re going to take a second bite at the apple.”

Retrials typically favor the prosecution, he said. “The fact that it was 10-2 for acquittal was of some concern for the prosecution, but is not at all fatal,” he said.

The senator was accused of taking bribes in the form of private jet travel, a Paris vacation and campaign contributions in exchange for pushing the doctor’s business interests at the highest levels of the U.S. government.

Defense lawyers said that the gifts and favors were simply part of a warm friendship over 20 years and not a corrupt quid pro quo, as prosecutors argued. They showed the jury photos of family dinners and a wedding, stressing the modesty and warmth of two men who called each other brothers.

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