A federal judge in New Jersey has declared a mistrial in the corruption trial of U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez.
It came after the 12-person jury told the judge for a second time that it was unable to reach a unanimous verdict on any of the bribery, conspiracy, fraud, or false statements charges facing the high-ranking Democrat and his co-defendant, Solomon Melgen.
Around 1 p.m., after emerging from chambers, Menendez hugged and kissed his daughter and son. Defense attorneys shook hands and patted each other on the back, as prosecutors
Citing the deadlocked jury, Judge William Walls concluded the case in a mistrial just after noon. “I find that you are unable to reach a verdict and that further deliberations would be futile,” he said.
The judge’s decision closes out an 11-week criminal trial, which was at times tedious but also rife with tales of ritzy international travel and sizable campaign contributions. It pulled back the curtain on the personal life of one of the Senate’s highest-ranking Democrats.
The trial in the federal courthouse in Newark also had national political stakes: If Menendez had lost his seat, it could have tipped the political balance of the Senate further toward Republicans and cleared the way for legislation championed by President Trump.
Now, one of the first prosecutions of a sitting U.S. senator in decades, which began with a bang, has ended in a whimper.
It is unclear whether the government will retry the case.
Justice Department prosecutors had accused Menendez and Melgen, a wealth Florida ophthalmologist, of engaging in a bribery scheme that lasted seven years, trading gifts and trips for government favors.
Melgen flew Menendez around on his private jet, paid for the senator to travel to Paris and the Dominican Republic, and gave handsome political contributions to groups that benefited Menendez.
In return, the government alleged, Menendez helped Melgen secure travel visas for his foreign girlfriends, intervened on the doctor’s behalf in an $8.9 million Medicare overbilling case and tried to sort out a contract dispute at one of Melgen’s companies in the Dominican Republic.
Both men denied such an agreement ever existed, saying instead that they were simply close friends.
The jury showed signs this week that they would be unable to reach a verdict.
In a note on Monday, they told Judge William Walls they were deadlocked, only hours into a fresh round of deliberations with an alternate who had replaced a juror excused the previous week.
At the time, Walls told them to go home for the day, eat a good meal and get some rest, and try again in the morning.
They deliberated all day Tuesday and Wednesday without sending a note to the court.
On Thursday, they again sent a note claiming they were deadlocked. Prosecutor Peter Koski suggested that Walls ask jurors whether they thought they could reach a partial verdict, appearing to hope for a conviction on at least one count. (In addition to the corruption charges faced by both men, Menendez faced an addition count of omitting the gifts from his annual financial disclosure forms in the Senate.)
But Walls demurred. “That would be a futile exercise,” he said. “The next thing I know I am therefore readily criticized for going down this slippery slope of coercion.”