More than two years after he was indicted on a litany of bribery and corruption charges, U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) is finally going to trial in a case that could end his political career and dramatically change the dynamics of the Senate, reports NJ Advance Media. Menendez is accused of accepting lavish personal gifts, expensive meals and golf outings from Dr. Salomon Melgen—as well as hundreds of thousands of dollars in political donations—in exchange for lobbying for his benefactor’s extensive financial and personal interests in Washington. Melgen, who was convicted in April in a Medicare fraud case in Florida, is on trial with Menendez as well.
Jury selection begins today before U.S. District Judge William Walls in Newark, where federal prosecutors will present a case heavy on salacious details of the favors Melgen allegedly bestowed on Menendez, including a stay in Paris, vacations in the Dominican Republic and trips on private corporate jets. Defense attorneys will paint a picture of a 20-year bond of friendship between the two men that had little to do with politics. They have argued that much of the indictment describes actions by Menendez’s staffers, rather than the senator himself, “and many involve trivial functions rather than official acts.” They called the indictment “hopelessly vague and defective.” Menendez and Melgen were charged in April 2015 by the U.S. Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section. The unit was criticized for its failed 2008 prosecution of U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK), whose conviction was thrown out because prosecutors did not share evidence with the defense that could have exonerated him. More recently, the unit won a conviction against Philadelphia politician Renee Tartaglione, who was accused of defrauding a mental health clinic of which she was president and landlord.