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Prosecutors detail evidence against NJ senator in corruption case

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This material belongs to: The Hill.

Federal prosecutors on Wednesday laid out their strategy in the corruption trial of Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), outlining their witnesses and evidence in a brief filed in court.

Menendez is charged with accepting lavish gifts, campaign donations and vacations from his co-defendant Salomon Melgen, a Florida eye doctor, in exchange for Menendez using his influence to benefit Melgen both personally and financially.

That relationship, prosecutors allege, began as early as 2006, when Menendez first entered in the Senate, and continued until 2013.

Both Menendez and Melgen have pleaded not guilty to the charges.

The brief, filed just a week before the trial is set to begin, also hits back at Menendez and Melgen’s defense, accusing them of pushing “conspiracy theories” to undermine the government’s evidence.

In the filing, prosecutors say the defendants are trying to “promote unfounded claims that this case is the result of a global conspiracy led by Menendez’s political opponents.”

“As needed to suit their agenda, the defendants have shifted their conspiracy theories, even when one conflicts with another,” prosecutors allege.

Prosecutors recount in the briefing how Menendez’s relationship with Melgen first came under “unwelcome public scrutiny” in 2012 amid reports that the New Jersey Democrat had flown multiple times on Melgen’s private jet free of charge while failing to record the trips on his financial disclosures.

But prosecutors depict a series of alleged improper favors, gifts and payments they say began much earlier, and included stays at Melgen’s villa in the Dominican Republic and costly plane rides.

“For the first four years of the corruption scheme, the all-expense paid trips Melgen provided often included free roundtrip flights on Melgen’s private jet for Menendez and his various guests,” the trial briefing reads. “When the doctor’s private jet was unavailable, Melgen supplied equally luxurious travel for the Senator.”

Prosecutors also allege that Menendez once demanded that Melgen book him “either a Park Suite King or Park Deluxe King room at the Park Hyatt Hotel in Paris.” The eye doctor eventually complied and reserved the senator an even more expensive room, according to prosecutors.

In return, they allege that Menendez used his office to perform favors for Melgen, including helping the doctor’s foreign mistresses obtain visas to visit the U.S. and advocating for Melgen in a dispute between his ophthalmology practice and the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

The briefing also outlines plans to call a number of witnesses, including former Menendez staffers, public officials the senator allegedly pressured on Melgen’s behalf and even pilots who were present for the vacations.

Melgen was convicted earlier this year in a separate Medicare fraud case in Florida, though Menendez has insisted that conviction has no bearing on their corruption and bribery trial.

Menendez and Melgen have denied the corruption and bribery allegations and have insisted that the gifts, vacations and donations were products of a decades-old friendship between the two men.

What’s more, Menendez has contended that his actions were part of his official legislative duties, and that many of them were carried out by staffers.