Federal prosecutors on Thursday accused Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezBiden, don't punish India Democrats reject hardball tactics against Senate parliamentarian Biden threatens more sanctions on Ethiopia, Eritrea over Tigray conflict MORE (D-N.J.) of misleading the public about why it took him more than two years to repay a wealthy friend $60,000 for trips on a private jet.
In their closing arguments in Menendez's corruption and bribery trial, prosecutors alleged that the senator sought to cast his initial failure to repay Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen as an honest mistake — that the expenses simply "fell through the cracks."
But "$58,500 does not fall through the cracks," prosecutor J.P. Cooney told jurors, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. Instead, he argued, Menendez had no intention of paying Melgen for the trips or any other benefits that prosecutors allege were part of a corrupt quid pro quo between the two men.
Menendez did not disclose the trips on the jet or other gifts he received from Melgen. He repaid Melgen for two of the flights only after coming under media scrutiny.
The New Jersey Democrat and Melgen are on trial for an alleged bribery scheme that federal prosecutors say began in 2006, when Menendez was appointed to the Senate by then-New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine (D). Their arrangement, prosecutors contend, continued until 2013.
Prosecutors say Menendez received lavish vacations, gifts and political donations from Melgen in exchange for using his public office to serve the eye doctor's personal and business interests.
Menendez and Melgen have denied the allegations, arguing that the benefits given to the senator were not part of a corrupt bargain, but were rather products of a decades-old friendship that defense attorneys have painted as a fraternal bond.
Prosecutors allege that in exchange for the gifts, Menendez repeatedly intervened in government matters to help Melgen. They have charged that the senator helped secure visas for Melgen's foreign girlfriends, intervened in a dispute between the doctor and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and sought to protect a lucrative port security contract in the Dominican Republic on Melgen's behalf.
“He may have been elected to represent New Jersey, but Robert MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezBiden, don't punish India Democrats reject hardball tactics against Senate parliamentarian Biden threatens more sanctions on Ethiopia, Eritrea over Tigray conflict MORE chose instead to represent the wealthy doctor from Florida,” Cooney told jurors Thursday, according to the Inquirer. “He was Salomon Melgen’s personal United States senator. Hold these defendants accountable. Find them guilty.”
Attorneys for Menendez and Melgen requested on Sunday that U.S. District Judge William Walls, who is presiding over the case, declare a mistrial, arguing that Walls had unfairly barred them from introducing key witnesses and evidence. Walls rejected that request on Monday.