An attorney for Sen. Bob Menendez’s co-defendant suggested on Thursday that Hispanics should not be held individually to account for any crimes they have committed because doing so makes all Hispanics look bad. The Democratic senator faces 14 counts of corruption charges for allegedly taking bribes from a wealthy eye doctor, Salomon Melgen, in exchange for political favors. Melgen, who was convicted of Medicare fraud earlier this year, stands on trial once again alongside Menendez.
Melgen’s attorney, Kirk Ogrosky, told the court that his client and Menendez are on trial not due to any wrongdoing by the two men, but because of their Hispanic heritage, according to Politico.
“Sal and Bob were part of a fellowship of Hispanic Americans. Entrepreneurs, businessmen, doctors, politicians. You’ll hear this at trial: their idea was to pay it forward, help young Hispanic-Americans improve their lives, lift up their community, play a larger role in their community,” Ogrosky said. “This case isn’t only an attack on those two men. It’s an attack on that whole group.”
As a Hispanic-American myself, let me assure you that making Menendez stand trial for his alleged role in defrauding American taxpayers and using his office as a means to get luxury vacations for free is not an attack on me or anyone else who happens to share our ancestry.
Lumping in all Hispanic-Americans with a senator who is facing felony corruption charges isn’t the first dumb thing the defense has said during the trial. In a 144-page set of proposed jury instructions, they asked that jurors be told: “Senators are people too, and they are allowed to have friends.”
“Gifts to public officials are not automatically bribes,” the defense wrote. “Senators are people too, and they are allowed to have friends. Senators and their friends are allowed to exchange gifts among themselves out of friendship or for other lawful reasons, and those gifts are not bribes because they are given out of friendship and not corruptly given in exchange for a specific official act.”
The defense also asked that the trial be scheduled around Menendez’s schedule so he could still participate in important votes — a request U.S. District Court Judge William Walls slapped down.
“The Court suspects that the trial strategy behind this motion, if granted, would be to impress the jurors with the public importance of the defendant Senator and his duties,” Wall wrote in response to the request. “No other plausible reason comes to mind.”
When Menendez’s attorney whined about the judge’s remark on Wednesday, the judge told him to “shut up for a minute.”
The Democratic senator, who says he’s innocent and has no plans to step down from office, could spend 15 years in prison for each of the eight bribery charges. Republican Gov. Chris Christie could chose a Republican to replace Menendez if he is forced to resign — a move that would affect the political makeup of the U.S. Senate.