NEWARK – The prosecution in Sen. Bob Menendez and Dr. Salomon Melgen’s corruption trial has completed its closing statement, urging jurors to “hold these defendants accountable. Find them guilty.”
Now, Melgen’s attorney Kirk Ogrosky will deliver his summation, followed by Menendez’s lawyer Abbe Lowell. The government will get the last word with a final summation at the very end.
Going through the charges against the senator and the doctor one by one, detailing the proof he says the government has provided, Department of Justice prosecutor J.P. Cooney said Menendez sold his office and power to Melgen for a flow of gifts and benefits over seven years.
“Ladies and gentlemen, Sen. Menendez held himself out as putting New Jersey first,” Cooney said. “But the very same year he became U.S. senator, Dr. Melgen came calling with a better offer. Sen. Menendez accepted it and he never looked back.”
The gifts included rides on Melgen’s private jet, stays at Melgen’s Dominican Republic villa, and a luxury hotel stay in Paris, France. Prosecutors say they were bribes to purchase Menendez’s official action on Melgen’s behalf.
“Most friends, they argue over the check at dinner,” Cooney said. “For this, Sen. Menendez insisted that Dr. Melgen pay and Dr. Melgen complied, because this was bribery.”
Cooney ridiculed Menendez’s emailed promise to Melgen, who had used accrued credit card points to pay for the Paris hotel, that Menendez would pay the doctor back with American Express credit card points of his own. At the rate Menendez was gaining the points, Cooney said, it would take the senator 30 years to pay Melgen back.
And Cooney brushed aside Menendez’s explanation that the flights and gifts were omitted from Senate financial disclosure forms because the senator forgot to include them.
“He didn’t forget about them,” Cooney said. “He lied about them.”
The indictment alleges two $300,000 donations from Melgen to a Democratic Super PAC in the run-up to the 2012 Senate election which were earmarked for New Jersey were bribes. Cooney pointed out Melgen’s check, from his company Vitrio Retinal Consultants, was handwritten.
“Who pulls out their checkbook and handwrites a $300,000 check?” Cooney asked. “How about someone who’s trying to send a message?”
On Oct. 12, 2012, Melgen wrote another $300,000 check to the Super PAC, also earmarked for New Jersey’s election races.
“And how do you know that check was a bribe too?” Cooney said. “(Melgen) tied that check directly to the official act he wanted.”
Two days after the check arrived, Melgen emailed Menendez and the senator’s chief of staff a memo on how to get Medicare authorities to back off Melgen’s overbilling case, Cooney said.
“Dr. Melgen gave Sen. Menendez the roadmap to the political solution to his multi-million dollar problem,” he said.
Just before closings began, Union City Mayor and state Sen. Brian Stack (D-33) joined the senator’s family in the first row of the gallery behind the defense table. Behind Stack and the senator’s children in the first row, two benches’ worth of religious leaders sat, listening.
Just before noon, Ogrosky began his closing for Melgen, calling the prosecution case a “carefully edited timeline” the government had worked on since 2012.
“There’s nothing but speculation,” Ogrosky said. “They’re asking you to speculate in this case where your job is to find guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.”