DOJ prosecutors drop corruption case against Sen. Menendez


Jan 31 (Reuters) – The U.S. Justice Department has dropped corruption charges against Democratic Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey, according to a court filing on Wednesday, days after the trial judge threw out several counts.

Menendez, a Democrat who is expected to seek reelection this year, was accused of accepting gifts from a wealthy benefactor, ophthalmologist Salomon Melgen, in exchange for official favors.

His first criminal trial last year ended in a mistrial after a jury could not come to a unanimous verdict, and federal prosecutors said this month they would seek to retry him.

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NEWARK, NJ – MARCH 06: Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) speaks at a press conference on March 26, 2015 in Newark New Jersey. Menendez is expected to face Federal corruption charges for allegedly using his office for the benefit of donors. (Photo by Kena Betancur/Getty Images)

NEWARK, NJ – MARCH 06: Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) departs after speaking at a press conference on March 26, 2015 in Newark New Jersey. Menendez is expected to face Federal corruption charges for allegedly using his office for the benefit of donors. (Photo by Kena Betancur/Getty Images)

NEWARK, NJ – MARCH 06: Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) speaks at a press conference on March 26, 2015 in Newark New Jersey. Menendez is expected to face Federal corruption charges for allegedly using his office for the benefit of donors. (Photo by Kena Betancur/Getty Images)

NEWARK, NJ – MARCH 06: Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) speaks at a press conference on March 26, 2015 in Newark New Jersey. Menendez is expected to face Federal corruption charges for allegedly using his office for the benefit of donors. (Photo by Kena Betancur/Getty Images)

NEWARK, NJ – MARCH 06: Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) speaks at a press conference on March 26, 2015 in Newark New Jersey. Menendez is expected to face Federal corruption charges for allegedly using his office for the benefit of donors. (Photo by Kena Betancur/Getty Images)

NEWARK, NJ – MARCH 06: Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) speaks at a press conference on March 26, 2015 in Newark New Jersey. Menendez is expected to face Federal corruption charges for allegedly using his office for the benefit of donors. (Photo by Kena Betancur/Getty Images)

NEWARK, NJ – MARCH 06: Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) speaks at a press conference on March 26, 2015 in Newark New Jersey. Menendez is expected to face Federal corruption charges for allegedly using his office for the benefit of donors. (Photo by Kena Betancur/Getty Images)

NEWARK, NJ – MARCH 06: Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) speaks at a press conference on March 26, 2015 in Newark New Jersey. Menendez is expected to face Federal corruption charges for allegedly using his office for the benefit of donors. (Photo by Kena Betancur/Getty Images)

NEWARK, NJ – MARCH 06: Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) speaks at a press conference on March 26, 2015 in Newark New Jersey. Menendez is expected to face Federal corruption charges for allegedly using his office for the benefit of donors. (Photo by Kena Betancur/Getty Images)

NEWARK, NJ – MARCH 06: Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) speaks at a press conference on March 26, 2015 in Newark New Jersey. Menendez is expected to face Federal corruption charges for allegedly using his office for the benefit of donors. (Photo by Kena Betancur/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON, DC – FEBRUARY 03: Committee Ranking Member Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) listens to witnesses during a Senate Foreign Relations committee hearing on U.S. and Cuban relations in Washington, D.C. on February 3, 2015. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, NEW JERSEY – DECEMBER 15: U.S. Sen. Senator Robert Menendez addresses the media in advance of an event with U.S. President Barack Obama December 15, 2014 at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey. Obama will address the troops to thank them for their service and mark the end of the combat mission in Afghanistan. ahead of the upcoming holidays. (Photo by Mark Makela/Getty Images)

US Senator Robert Menendez, D-New Jersey, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee makes opening remarks June 5, 2014 at the start of hearings Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The committee is hearing testimony on ‘Development in Ukraine.’ AFP PHOTO / Karen BEIER (Photo credit should read KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images)

US Senator Robert Menendez, D-NJ, speaks as he introduces Defense Department general counsel Jeh Johnson to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee for Johnson’s nomination to be Homeland Security secretary in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on November 13, 2013 in Washington, DC. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

UNITED STATES – SEPTEMBER 3: From left, ranking member Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and chairman Robert Menendez, D-N.J. conduct the Senate Foreign Relations mark up hearing to authorize for use of military force in Syria on Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2013. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

US Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) speaks during a press conference on an agreement for principles on comprehensive immigration reform framework at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on January 28, 2013. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

US Senator Robert Menendez, D-NJ (2L) participates in a reenacted swearing-in with his son Robert Menendez and daughter Alicia Jacobsen Menendez and US Vice President Joe Biden in the Old Senate Chamber at the U.S. Capitol January 3, 2013 in Washington, DC. The 113th US Congress, featuring dozens of new faces in the House and Senate, convened Thursday fresh from the year-end ‘fiscal cliff’ fiasco, as lawmakers cast a wary eye towards the tough budget battles ahead. AFP PHOTO / Jewel Samad (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

NEWARK, NJ – APRIL 01: Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) speaks at a press conference on April 1, 2015 in Newark, New Jersey. According to reports, Menendez has been indicted on federal corruption charges of conspiracy to commit bribery and wire fraud. (Photo by Kena Betancur/Getty Images)




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“From the very beginning, I never wavered in my innocence and my belief that justice would prevail,” Menendez said in a statement. “I am grateful that the Department of Justice has taken the time to reevaluate its case and come to the appropriate conclusion.”

Abbe David Lowell, Menendez’s attorney, added: “We are pleased and grateful that the Justice Department made the right decision to end this case.”

The Justice Department’s decision marks a major political victory not only for Menendez, but also for the Democratic party, which is hoping to regain control of the U.S. Senate in the upcoming midterm elections.

Last week U.S. District Judge William Walls threw out some of the bribery charges on the grounds that prosecutors had failed to show that about $660,000 in political contributions from Melgen to help benefit Menendez’s 2012 reelection campaign were part of any bribery scheme.

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The mere fact that some of the money arrived around the same time that Menendez took actions that could benefit Melgen was not enough to prove a “quid pro quo” arrangement, Walls said.

“Given the impact of the Court’s Jan. 24 Order on the charges and the evidence admissible in a retrial, the United States has determined that it will not retry the defendants on the remaining charges,” the Justice Department said in a statement.

The department also said on Wednesday that it was dropping federal charges against Melgen.

In a statement, Melgen’s attorney Kirk Ogrosky said his client “is now and has always been innocent.”

“We take no pleasure in seeing justice done at this stage in a case that should never have been brought. All that said, justice today is better than continuing on to inevitable acquittals on the remaining counts,” he added.

Melgen was separately convicted of a Medicare fraud in Florida and is awaiting sentencing in that case in July.

(Reporting by Joseph Ax and Sarah N. Lynch, editing by G Crosse and Susan Thomas)

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