Prosecutors warn that tossing bribery charges against US Senator Robert Menendez – as being considered by a federal judge—would “decriminalize corruption” and “jettison the vast majority of bribery prosecutions.”
US District Judge William Walls suggested last week that the Justice Department’s bribery charges against Menendez may not move forward based on his reading of a 2016 Supreme Court opinion overturning the conviction of former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell.
McDonnell had been convicted of corruption charges for taking gifts from a businessman in exchange for arranging a meeting between him and state officials.
In that ruling, the top court invalidated the “stream of benefits” theory of bribery that prosecutors have used to make legal cases against Menendez and other public officials.
“I know the prosecution had a heyday before McDonnell, and now they have a doomsday after McDonnell,” Walls said.
Federal prosecutors allege that Menendez accepted bribes from his co-defendant Salomon Melgen, a Florida ophthalmologist and longtime friend, in anticipation for the senator’s help “as opportunities arose” in the future.
Melgen has already been convicted in Florida for overbilling the Medicare program by millions of dollars, and faces a potentially lengthy prison sentence.
Prosecutors allege that Menendez intervened with federal agencies on Melgen’s behalf to resolve the billing dispute, to assist a $500 million port security contract, and to obtain US visas for Melgen’s girlfriends.
Menendez and Melgan have both denied the charges, with their attorneys arguing that what prosecutors call bribes were gifts exchanged between friends.
The high-profile case resumes Monday.
Both the Justice Department of defense attorneys filed motions during the weekend to bolster their arguments.
Prosecutors wrote that to dismiss charges against Menendez “would decriminalize the most egregious forms of corruption, incentivizing greedy businessmen to put politicians on retainer and immunizing lawmakers who solicit bribes in exchange for a promise to perform official acts.”
“The Supreme Court did not, and this Court should not, render a decision that has the unsettling effect of legalizing all such conduct.”
In total, the New Jersey Democrat faces six counts of bribery, three counts of honest services fraud, one count of conspiracy, one count of interstate travel to carry out bribery, and one count of making false statements on his congressional financial disclosures.