NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — A lawyer representing indicted Sen. Bob Menendez told a judge Wednesday he is considering filing a motion to have the upcoming corruption trial moved out of New Jersey and possibly to Florida, where the investigation into Menendez's relationship with a longtime friend and campaign donor began.
Attorneys for both sides were in court for a status conference to discuss a trial date and deadlines for filing motions. Menendez and Florida ophthalmologist Salomon Melgen, named in a 22-count indictment earlier this month, weren't required to attend the conference and were not present.
Abbe Lowell, Menendez's attorney, told U.S. District Judge William Walls that he was planning to file motions to dismiss the indictment that he might file a request to change the trial venue. Outside court, he said he was seeking an explanation for why the investigation was begun in Florida and then moved to New Jersey, where a grand jury handed up the indictment.
"There may be no witnesses in New Jersey — zero," Lowell said. "There's going to be a whole lot of witnesses in South Florida and in Washington, D.C.; some of them may be executive branch people, members of Congress. So you have to take all that into consideration when you consider venue."
Lowell also told Walls he was considering filing to have Menendez tried separately from Melgen. The indictment charges them with bribery, conspiracy and honest services fraud.
Prosecutors accuse Menendez of accepting nearly $1 million worth of campaign contributions, travel and gifts, including flights aboard a luxury jet and a Paris vacation, in exchange for political favors. The indictment alleges Menendez acted to advance Melgen's business interests, including intervening in a Medicare billing dispute worth millions of dollars.
Menendez has said he accepted gifts from Melgen because the two have been close friends for years.
Melgen also was charged in a separate 76-count indictment last week alleging that he made false diagnoses and performed unnecessary surgeries that he then billed to Medicare. Government prosecutors claim the fraud could be as high as $190 million.
Both men have pleaded not guilty. Melgen is being held in Florida, and Menendez was released after making an initial court appearance in New Jersey and resumed his duties in the Senate.
How Melgen's case proceeds will affect Menendez's case and could provide grist for a motion to prosecute the men separately, Lowell said. The issue of what evidence is admissible against which defendant also is a factor.
"Statements made by a person can be admitted against that person but not necessarily against a co-defendant," he said. "Depending on what statements exist, it's possible that a motion for severance cures the problem of a piece of evidence being admissible as to one person that's not admissible as to another."
A trial date for Menendez and Melgen had been set earlier this month for July, but Walls moved that on Wednesday to Oct. 13. Lowell had sought a trial date in December or next January.