Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez’s federal corruption trial ended Thursday in a mistrial after the deadlocked jury could not reach a unanimous verdict.
“We cannot reach a unanimous decision,’’ the jury wrote. “Nor are we willing to move away from our strong convictions.”
Federal prosecutors alleged that Menendez, after taking office in 2006, began taking bribes from Salomon Melgen—a wealthy Florida eye doctor who has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars in political contributions—and using his status as a member of Congress to benefit Melgen.
“They are telling us in the clearest terms possible that they have done their job as diligent jurors. I think we have a real hung jury,’’ Menendez attorney Abbe Lowell said.
The bribes allegedly included weekend getaways in the Caribbean, in addition to lavish travel and hotel accommodations. In exchange, Menendez was accused of intervening with the federal government on Melgen’s behalf to, among other things, secure visas for Melgen’s foreign girlfriends and to settle a Medicare-related issue. Prosecutors charged Melgen as a co-conspirator in the case.
The case was already heading toward a mistrial on Monday when the jury first said it was deadlocked on all counts. Judge William Walls ordered the jury to continue deliberating on, despite Menendez’s attorneys requesting the declaration of a mistrial. After Thursday’s mistrial, the Justice Department could decide to re-try Menendez.
While his legal troubles appear to have been halted, a new political storm might be brewing for the senator. On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) called for an ethics investigation into the events that led to his indictment.
“He is one of only twelve U.S. Senators to have been indicted in our history,” McConnell said in a statement. “His trial shed light on serious accusations of violating the public’s trust as an elected official, as well as potential violations of the Senate’s Code of Conduct.”
As recently as last month, Menendez was defiant in declaring his innocence, saying that he was not “contemplating anything but re-election” because he has “no intention of being anything but exonerated.” He would not commit to resigning if convicted.
Menendez had bipartisan support as he battled the charges against him. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) testified at the trial in Newark, telling the jury that his colleague is “a very honest and trustworthy senator.” Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Menendez’s counterpart, also testified to his integrity, stating: “When he gives you his word, you can take it to the bank.”