Bribery Doesn’t Hold Up; Judge Declares that Senator Menendez Case is a Mistrial

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Senator Menendez Image via Chicago Tribune

Democratic Senator Robert Menendez’s corruption trial is over for now. In fact, the judge declared a mistrial. Federal prosecutors indicted Sen. Menendez for abusing his office. They accused him of doing favors for a wealthy eye doctor from Florida in exchange for lavish gifts and political contributions. However, Menendez proclaimed his innocence.

The charges filed against Senator Menendez included conspiracy to commit bribery and honest services fraud. In addition, other charges included violation of Federal Travel Act, bribery, wire fraud, mail fraud and making false statements. Had Menendez received a conviction on the most serious charge, honest service fraud, his sentence could have been a maximum of 20 years in federal prison.

The jury consisted of seven women and five men. “We cannot reach a unanimous decision,” as reported by the Washington Post.

Consequently, U.S. District Judge Williams questioned the jurors and declared a mistrial.

String Of Benefits Theory

Per Politico, “Under the “string of benefits” theory for bribery, a public official’s actions can be defined as bribery if those actions can be linked to gifts received over a lengthy period of time.

However, Judge Walls expressed doubts whether the Justice Department’s bribery charges against Menendez could hold up in court. Walls openly questioned whether Menendez and his co-defendant, Dr. Salomon Melgen, had engaged in a bribery scheme. The case relied on Gov. Bob McDonell’s ruling. That ruling impacted the legal definition of bribery, including the “string of benefits” theory.

Quid Pro Quo

The Supreme Courts unanimous decision narrowed the definition of the kinds of official acts a politician must perform to be considered as having partaken in an illegal quid pro quo. Making phone calls, arranging meetings or offering support on an issue no longer qualifies as an “official act, as reported by the NYTimes.

Specifically, the jurors received instructions to look for a concrete quid pro quo, not just a plausible quid pro quo.

Due to the fact that these two men were like brothers, stated Menendez’s attorney in his closing arguments, the gifts were not bribes. Indeed they were gifts in appreciation of their friendship.

As a result, a mistrial is a major victory for the senator. On the contrary, it is a setback for the Justice Department. Federal prosecutors may retry this case.

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