Feds to retry Sen. Menendez on corruption charges

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By Pete Williams

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department notified a federal judge Friday that it will again put Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey on trial, after a jury deadlocked and ended an earlier prosecution in a mistrial.

"The conduct alleged in the indictment is serious and warrants retrial before a jury of citizens in the District of New Jersey," the Justice Department said.

"An early retrial date is in the best interests of the public," government lawyers told the judge.

A spokesman for Menendez said prosecutors evidently "did not hear the overwhelming voices of the New Jerseyans" who served on the jury during the first trial.

"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." the statement said.

Menendez was accused of illegally accepting favors from a Florida eye doctor, Salomon Melgen. Among them, prosecutors said, were a dozen flights on a private jet to stay Melgen's cloistered resort in the Dominican Republic, three nights at a five-star hotel in Paris, and more than $700,000 in political contributions for Menendez and the Democratic party.

In return, the government said, Menendez helped get visas for Melgen's girlfriends, aided a Melgen-owned company with a contract worth millions for port security in the Dominican Republic, and leaned on federal regulators after Melgen was accused of overbilling Medicare for nearly $9 million dollars.

Defense lawyers said Menendez never agreed to perform any specific act when he received specific favors from Dr. Melgen. And they said the two men were longtime friends whose relationship was not one of political convenience.

After a mistrial was declared in November, several jurors said the government failed to prove its case and that the evidence it presented was not convincing.

Last year's trial involved the first major federal corruption prosecution after a 2016 US Supreme Court ruling made it more difficult to prove bribery involving public officials.

Menendez, a Democrat, is 64 and is heavily favored to win re-election later this year to a third Senate term.