The federal bribery trial of Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez ended in a mistrial Thursday when the jury said it was hopelessly deadlocked on all charges against the New Jersey politician and a wealthy donor. Prosecutors can seek to retry the lawmaker. The most serious charge Menendez faced, honest services fraud, is punishable by up to 20 years in prison. US District Judge William Walls declared the mistrial after more than six full days of deliberations that had to be re-started midway through when a juror was replaced. There was no immediate word on which way the jury was leaning. The inconclusive end to the 2.5-month trial could leave the charges hanging over Menendez as he gears up for an expected run for re-election next year to the Senate, where the Republicans hold a slim edge, reports the AP.
Menendez, 63, is accused of using his political influence to help Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen in exchange for luxury vacations, flights on Melgen's private jet, and campaign contributions to groups that supported the senator directly or indirectly. Prosecutors said Menendez pressured officials on Melgen's behalf over an $8.9 million Medicare billing dispute and helped obtain US visas for the doctor's girlfriends. The defense argued the gifts were tokens of friendship between men who were "like brothers." In Menendez attorney Abbe Lowell's closing argument, he used the words "friend," ''friends," or "friendship" more than 80 times. Menendez's lawyers contended the government failed to establish a direct connection between Melgen's gifts and specific actions taken by the senator. Prosecutors said that didn't matter. Melgen, they said, essentially put Menendez on the payroll and made the politician his "personal senator."