Menendez cites Ted Stevens’ case as he seeks to move trial

Jun 2, 2015, 4:48 PM

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, fighting to have his corruption case moved to Washington, on Tuesday cited arguments that the government made to keep former Alaska U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens’ 2008 corruption trial in Washington.

Attorneys for Menendez and co-defendant Salomon Melgen pointed out in the filing that federal prosecutors successfully argued against Stevens’ attempt to have his trial moved to Alaska. Stevens, a Republican, was convicted in 2008, but the charges later were dismissed.

Menendez, who served for more than a decade in the House of Representatives before joining the Senate in 2006, and Melgen, a Florida ophthalmologist, filed the request last month, arguing virtually none of the 22 counts alleged occurred in New Jersey so the trial shouldn’t be in the state. Their attorneys say the Department of Justice’s Public Integrity Section wants the judge to ignore its prior arguments that a case against a sitting U.S. senator should be heard in Washington.

Prosecutors said last month that Menendez’s attempt to move the trial from New Jersey ignores allegations he accepted numerous items of value in the state. They also said his lawyers are based in New York, less than 15 miles from the federal courthouse in Newark.

Menendez is charged with accepting gifts and donations totaling about $1 million, including flights aboard a luxury jet and a Paris vacation, from Melgen in exchange for political favors. He has said he accepted gifts because he and Melgen have been close friends for years. They have pleaded not guilty.

Defense lawyers argued the government began the investigation and grand jury presentation in Florida before moving the case to New Jersey.

The basis for trying the case in New Jersey “appears to be radio communications from the pilot of a plane in New Jersey airspace on which Senator Menendez was a passenger,” the original defense brief states. “Needless to say, the pilot’s cabin and the airport control tower were not the ‘nerve center’ of the conspiracy alleged in the indictment.”

The brief says the location of the defendants and possible witnesses, the expense to the parties and the location of attorneys and the fact that events at issue took place in Washington are compelling reasons to move the case from New Jersey.

Prosecutors said New Jersey is just as accessible to Florida as it is to D.C.

Melgen, who has offices in Palm Beach and St. Lucie counties, has been charged in Florida in a separate 76-count indictment alleging he made false diagnoses and performed unnecessary surgeries that he then billed to Medicare. He has pleaded not guilty there, too.

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Menendez cites Ted Stevens’ case as he seeks to move trial