Senator Menendez `Severely Admonished' by Ethics Committee

(Bloomberg) -- Democratic Senator Bob Menendez was "severely admonished" by the Senate Ethics Committee on Thursday, months after federal prosecutors dropped a corruption case against him following a mistrial in court.

The bipartisan panel ordered the New Jersey senator to return "gifts of significant value" that he accepted from Salomon Melgen, a Florida eye doctor. The committee said it concluded after an investigation that Menendez, 64, used his power to advance the doctor’s personal and business interests, saying his actions constitute "at a minimum, the appearance of impropriety."

The committee "concludes that your actions violated Senate Rules and related statutes, and reflected discredit upon the Senate," it said in a letter Thursday. "Accordingly, you must repay the fair market value of all impermissible gifts not already repaid, and amend your Financial Disclosure Reports to include all reportable gifts."

A spokesman for the two-term senator didn’t immediately return a message seeking comment. Menendez is the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and is seeking re-election in November. He had temporarily stepped aside from his position on the panel while battling corruption charges.

A senior Senate Democratic aide said Menendez won’t experience any change in his committee assignments as a result of the ethics admonishment, including his status as the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations panel.

Federal prosecutors dropped a corruption case against Menendez in January rather than retry him after a divided jury failed to reach a verdict in November. He was accused at trial 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 in the U.S. government.

The Justice Department said it abandoned the case after a judge ruled that the trial evidence and testimony persuaded him that Menendez wasn’t guilty on four of the criminal counts.

Menendez has maintained his innocence and fought the allegations.

The ethics committee members criticized Menendez’s defense at trial that the gifts were
acceptable because Melgen was his closest friend.

“Your Senate office and its attendant resources and power are not personal to you,” the committee wrote. “Senators must closely guard against even the appearance that their families or friends are entitled to use these resources and power for their own personal gain.”

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