In 2012, Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) began to be investigated for several scandals involving bribery, prostitutes, an affair, and other ethics violations. The Senate Ethics Committee ended its inquiry when a criminal investigation began.
Now, five years later, a hung jury caused a federal judge to declare a mistrial in the Menendez corruption and bribery trial. The disgraced Senator has taken the opportunity to try to minimize attention by pitching enrollment in Obamacare. High-ranking Senators such as Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) have called for the end of further probing, calling Menendez a “valued colleague.”
But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has already declared that the Senate will be reopening the investigation, and the Senate Ethics Committee said it would immediately take up the case. Since the criminal investigation ended in a mistrial, federal prosecutors will have to consider a new trial while Menendez is allowed to go back to work in the Senate.
Menendez was on trial for 18 counts of conspiracy and bribery involving a wealthy ophthalmologist friend. The friend, Dr. Salomon Melgen, gave Menendez over $750,000 in political contributions, a luxurious hotel suite in Paris, and free rides on a private jet, in exchange for political favors involving contracts for Melgen and visas for his girlfriends. Menendez also is accused of bailing Melgen out of a Medicare corruption scheme. Melgen was convicted of 67 counts of health care fraud in April, reportedly robbing Medicare of as much as $105 million.
The New Jersey Senator could face expulsion from the Senate if the Committee decides he violated Senate rules, such as a requirement that such expensive gifts be disclosed.
It was also alleged in 2012 by a whistleblower that Menendez had sexual relations with a 16-year-old prostitute on multiple trips to the Dominican Republic. Her claims were brought to light by a tipster who emailed the government reform group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW).
Ethics questions were also raised by Menendez’s relationship with the former governor of Puerto Rico, who at one time faced 19 counts of campaign finance fraud. Many of those charges were dismissed, while Menendez worked to block the appointment of the interim US Attorney who was investigating the governor.
Legal experts have cynically claimed that bribery convictions are almost impossible due to the Supreme Court narrowly defining the crime. Watchdog groups have called for stronger corruption laws to prevent any more Menendez-style incidents. Prosecutors have not secured a major political corruption conviction of a federal elected official since 2008 when Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK) was convicted of making false statements.