NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — Jurors in the corruption trial of U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez and a wealthy donor heard more testimony Thursday about trips the New Jersey Democrat took at the donor’s expense, as prosecutors sought to bolster their contention the free travel was part of a long-term bribery agreement.
Two pilots testified they flew Menendez on private planes paid for by the donor, Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen.
Prosecutors say the flights were part of a pattern of bribery by Melgen to get Menendez to lobby government officials on behalf of his personal and business interests. They contend Menendez pressured the officials over Melgen’s dispute with the government over Medicare billing and Melgen’s contract to provide port security equipment for the Dominican Republic.
This week, a Dominican woman testified she received a U.S. visa to visit Melgen in 2008 with Menendez’s help. Defense attorneys have contended it was normal, not illegal, for Menendez to get involved in visa applications.
Melgen and Menendez are charged with multiple fraud and bribery counts. They have denied the allegations and say the gifts were between friends and weren’t part of a bribery arrangement.
During cross-examination by defense attorneys Thursday, both pilots said they weren’t told to conceal the fact that Menendez had taken the flights by keeping his name off official forms.
The trial is in recess until Monday.
In a Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday, 50 percent of about 1,100 registered voters surveyed said Menendez doesn’t deserve re-election, up from 44 percent in June.
Sixty-eight percent of those surveyed said if Menendez is convicted and forced to leave office the next governor, not Republican Gov. Chris Christie, should appoint his successor.
The poll had a margin of 3.8 percentage points.
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