The Justice Department Wednesday filed to dismiss its remaining charges against Sen. Bob Menendez, bringing the legal case that has hovered over the New Jersey Democrat for years to a close.
An 11-week trial last fall resulted in a hung jury. Prosecutors had accused the senator of accepting bribes from Dr. Salomon Melgen, a wealthy ophthalmologist in Florida, in return for political favors. The charges against Melgen were also dropped.
Both men pleaded not guilty to all charges.
"Given the impact of the Court's Jan. 24 order on the charges and the evidence admissible in a retrial, the United States has determined that it will not retry the defendants on the remaining charges," DOJ spokeswoman Nicole Navas Oxman said.
"From the very beginning, I never wavered in my innocence and my belief that justice would prevail," Menendez said in a statement Wednesday. "I am grateful that the Department of Justice has taken the time to reevaluate its case and come to the appropriate conclusion. I thank God for hearing my prayers and for giving me strength during this difficult time. I have devoted my life to serving the people of New Jersey, and am forever thankful for all who have stood by me."
Melgen attorney Kirk Ogrosky called the case an "ill-fated adventure" by the FBI and Justice Department "that destroyed my client's life."
"Dr. Melgen is now and has always been innocent of the charges brought in New Jersey. He did not ever give anything to his best friend of over 20 years with an expectation that he would get something in return," Ogrosky said. "We take no pleasure in seeing justice done at this stage in a case that should never have been brought. All that said, justice today is better than continuing on to inevitable acquittals on the remaining counts. We hope that this type of meritless case is never again brought by DOJ."
After last fall's trial ended, one juror told reporters the jury was split 10-2 on all counts in favor of acquittal.
"In light of the results of a three month trial, all the jury said and the granting of our motion for acquittal on significant counts, we are pleased and grateful that the Justice Department made the right decision to end this case," Menendez attorney Abbe Lowell said Wednesday.
In November when the trial ended in a mistrial, Menendez criticized the Justice Department.
"The way this case started was wrong, the way it was investigated was wrong, the way it was prosecuted was wrong and the way it was tried was wrong as well," Menendez told reporters outside the courthouse. "Certain elements of the FBI and of our state cannot understand or, even worse, accept that the Latino kid from Union City and Hudson County can grow up and be a US senator and be honest."
Menendez faced charges of conspiracy, bribery and honest services fraud related to allegedly abusing the power of his office that could have carried decades in prison. Prosecutors said Menendez pressured high-level officials in the Obama administration and other career diplomats to help Melgen resolve his business disputes in exchange for political contributions, a luxurious hotel suite at the Park Hyatt in Paris and free rides on Melgen's private jet that Menendez failed to report on his Senate disclosure form.
Defense lawyers argued that Menendez and Melgen were longtime friends with no corrupt intent to commit a federal crime.