Menendez Trial: Defense Points to Friendship, As Court Adjourns Until Monday

NEWARK – Sen. Robert Menendez’s defense team sought to introduce evidence of the senator’s close friendship with his co-defendant Dr. Salomon Melgen from as far back as 1998, which included vacations together to the Dominican Republic and flights on Melgen’s jet. 


Menendez attorney Abbe Lowell pointed out Menendez took 28 flights to the Dominican Republic between 1998 and 2013. During the period of the alleged conspiracy from 2006 to 2013, Menendez traveled to the Carribbean island 20 times, but the government alleges only ten of the flights were bribes. Sometimes, Menendez paid his own way for all or part of the trip, Lowell said.


“What kind of bribe is it to pay hundreds of dollars to stay at your friend’s house?” Lowell asked.


Judge William Walls allowed Lowell to query FBI Agent Alan Mohl during cross-examination about the stamps on Menendez’s passport indicating the senator visited the Dominican Republic on multiple occasions. But in arguments outside the presence of the jury, Walls seemed to disagree with Melgen lawyer Kirk Ogrosky’s opening statement, where Ogrosky said friendship was an “absolute defense” against bribery charges. 


“Friendship can also be used as a camouflage for crime,” Walls said.


“I caution you that friends can be criminals,” Walls added a few moments later.


Under cross-examination by Lowell, Mohl confirmed the senator visited the Dominican Republic (and presumably Melgen) in February 2002, August 2003, August 2004, and August 2005, all before the alleged conspiracy began. Menendez also spent a week in the Dominican Republic in August 2006 during the alleged conspiracy, but the government did not charge that trip as a bribe, Mohl said.


“Do you know Dr. Melgen’s birthday is in August?” Lowell asked. Mohl confirmed it was.


The trial’s afternoon session ended early at 1 p.m. today in observance of the sundown start to the Jewish high holiday Rosh Hashanah. Court is not in session for the holiday tomorrow and does not meet on Fridays. It resumes Monday with Mohl on the stand for more cross-examination.


Menendez quickly left court and traveled to an event at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken. Menendez planned to announce new legislation he will sponsor to protect consumer information in the wake of the Equifax data breach earlier this month.

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