Trenton, NJ – A federal appeals court on Friday refused to dismiss a corruption indictment against Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, rejecting his claim that the U.S. Constitution shielded him from prosecution.
Menendez, a Democrat, had been accused of abusing his power as a U.S. senator to advance the interests of a leading donor, in exchange for gifts and other perks.
Prosecutors said Menendez interceded on behalf of Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen in an $8.9 million billing dispute with Medicare and a contract dispute with the government of the Dominican Republic, while accepting gifts including a stay at a Caribbean villa and flights on private jets.
Menendez had argued that his actions were protected by the Constitution’s “speech or debate” clause, which offers members of Congress broad protection against prosecution for actions they undertake as legislators.
But the alleged activity amounted essentially to “lobbying on behalf of a particular party,” Circuit Judge Thomas Ambro wrote for a three-judge appeals court panel in Philadelphia. “It was not to engage in true legislative oversight or otherwise influence broad matters of policy.”
Menendez staffers did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The senator’s lawyer, Abbe Lowell, did not immediately respond to similar requests.
The case is U.S. v. Menendez, 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 15-3459.