POLITICS

Feds fire back at Robert Menendez's effort to get corruption charges dismissed

In the photo taken July 23, 2015, Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J. is seen on Capitol Hill, in Washington. Florida eye doctor Dr. Salomon Melgen,  linked to Menendez in a corruption case is seeking changes in his bond conditions in an unrelated Medicare fraud prosecution. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

In the photo taken July 23, 2015, Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J. is seen on Capitol Hill, in Washington. Florida eye doctor Dr. Salomon Melgen, linked to Menendez in a corruption case is seeking changes in his bond conditions in an unrelated Medicare fraud prosecution. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)  (ap)

U.S. Department of Justice prosecutors released new details on Monday in the corruption case against New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, who claims he was unfairly targeted and treated unjustly.

Menendez had filed motions saying the case stemmed from inaccurate and “easily disprovable” reports that he and Dominican doctor Salomon Melgen, the senator’s friend and political donor, had sex with underage prostitutes.

But federal prosecutors shot back – saying Menendez was not improperly investigated for allegedly accepting bribes from Melgen, a wealthy Florida eye doctor and longtime friend of Menendez.

On Monday prosecutors admitted that the early stages of its investigation grew out of the accusations that Menendez and Melgen had sex with underage prostitutes, but they argued that the allegations, "were not so easily disprovable as the defendants suggest."

“Presented with specific, corroborated allegations that defendants Menendez and Melgen had sex with underage prostitutes in the Dominican Republic, the Government responsibly and dutifully investigated those serious allegations,” said the filing, according to U.S. News and World Report. “The indictment here, of course, charges only corruption and does not include any allegations of soliciting underage prostitution.”

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They called the corruption case the result of an "exhaustive, focused and disciplined" investigation that spanned more than two years.

The new court filings from the government are the latest volley in a high-stakes, bitter court case involving Menendez and Melgen, who is accused of bribing the senator with campaign contributions and lavish gifts. They represent the Justice Department's first response to an aggressive attack on the indictment made last month by the defense team, which submitted hundreds of pages of documents that sought dismissal of the charges and that accused government prosecutors of misconduct.

In urging a judge to reject the defense motions, prosecutors presented additional details and testimony intended to support the corruption allegations. They have charged Menendez with accepting from Melgen campaign contributions and luxury trips to Paris and the D.R. in exchange for performing political favors on the eye doctor's behalf.

"No ordinary constituent from New Jersey received the same treatment, and the quid pro quo outlined in the indictment is clear and unmistakable," government lawyers wrote.

Menendez and Melgen have attacked the indictment on several grounds. Among their arguments is that the gifts and contributions were tokens of a decades-long friendship and did not represent any effort to curry political favor, and that the indictment risks criminalizing routine interactions between politicians and their supporters.

In a particularly provocative allegation — and one that the Justice Department on Monday called baseless and irresponsible — they accused prosecutors of knowingly eliciting false grand jury testimony from an FBI agent.

The agent's testimony centered on a critical meeting Menendez had with Kathleen Sebelius, then the Secretary of Health and Human Services, in which prosecutors say the senator sought to intervene on Melgen's behalf in a Medicare billing dispute worth millions of dollars.

Defense lawyers have argued that while the agent told the grand jury that it was "perfectly clear" the meeting was about Melgen, the agent's own internal notes show Sebelius told investigators that "she could not recall what Menendez specifically wanted" or whether Melgen's name came up during the meeting.

But on Monday, prosecutors countered that defense lawyers had relied on "selective snippets," made "creative use of ellipses" in quoting witness testimony and ignored incriminating statements from other participants in the meeting. They said the entire quotation from the FBI agent makes clear that he did not perjure himself and that the meeting was indeed about Melgen.

Separately on Monday, defense lawyers said they were subpoenaing for records six federal agencies, including the CIA, the State Department and the Homeland Security Department.

In its filings, the government says that Melgen met two strippers at a “Gentleman’s Club” in Florida, paid them thousands of dollars and flew them to the D.R. A pilot of Melgen’s private plane told investigators that a number of “young girls” who “look like escorts” were aboard at the same time that Menendez was.

Menendez failed to report trips aboard Melgen’s plane, only paying for them “after the allegations surfaced," prosecutors noted. The flights are part of the government’s corruption case against the senator.

Based on reporting by the Associated Press.

Based on reporting by the Associated Press.

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