NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez didn't report free flights and a luxury hotel stay paid for by a wealthy donor on Senate disclosure forms over a span of several years, according to testimony Wednesday in the two men's bribery trial.
Prosecutors are seeking to show jurors the New Jersey Democrat tried to hide the gifts given to him by Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen. They say the gifts were part of a bribery agreement in which Menendez used his political influence to help Melgen in two business disputes and with visas for reputed foreign girlfriends.
On Wednesday, prosecutors also showed jurors a clip of a CNN interview Menendez gave in early 2013 and a news release put out by Menendez's office.
In both, Menendez acknowledged he took a few flights on the plane of Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen. Prosecutors have introduced evidence that he took many more flights on Melgen's plane or, when the doctor's plane wasn't available, flights on another private jet paid for by Melgen.
Menendez and Melgen have said in court filings — and Menendez has said publicly — that there was no bribery agreement and that the flights and other gifts were expressions of the two men's longtime friendship.
In the CNN interview from February 2013, Menendez discusses his reimbursement of about $58,000 to Melgen for some of the flights he took a few years earlier. The delay in reimbursement was because the flights "unfortunately fell through the cracks" during a time when he was busy with travel on behalf of Senate Democrats and for his own campaign, he told CNN.
Pressed on whether he paid back the money only after reporters began inquiring about the flights, he replied, "That's not the case. The bottom line is when it came to my attention, I paid for it."
The relationship between Menendez and Melgen surfaced in early 2013 after FBI agents searched Melgen's West Palm Beach offices. Melgen ultimately was charged and convicted of Medicare fraud in a separate case not involving Menendez.
FBI agent Alan Mohl, who worked on the Menendez investigation from 2013, testified Wednesday that Menendez's Senate disclosure forms from 2007 through 2011 didn't report flights he took on Melgen's plane between New Jersey and the Dominican Republic, where Melgen owns a villa.
Mohl also testified that Menendez didn't report a stay at a $1,500-per-night Paris hotel in 2010 paid for with Melgen's American Express points.