NEWARK, N.J. — Jurors in the corruption trial of U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez and a wealthy donor were treated Monday to pictures and descriptions of beachside villas, world-ranked golf courses and other amenities as part of the government’s narrative that those were inducements to get Menendez to flex his political muscle in Washington.
They also heard about a $20,000 private jet flight and an $875 limo ride paid for by the donor, Florida ophthalmologist Salomon Melgen.
Prosecutors allege Melgen funneled those and other gifts to Menendez over the years in exchange for the New Jersey Democrat’s help with two business disputes and, in the words of one court filing, Melgen’s “personal whims,” which included U.S. visas for three reputed foreign girlfriends.
Both men deny the allegations and contend the gifts were an expression of their longtime friendship. Menendez has argued his meetings and interactions with government officials were legitimate efforts on broader issues, though they could potentially have benefited Melgen in a Medicare dispute and a contested contract for port screening equipment in the Dominican Republic.
Those allegations took a backseat Monday to a tour through the Dominican Republic’s jet-set enclaves of Casa de Campo, where Melgen owns a villa, and Punta Cana, a Caribbean resort.
Casa de Campo features a golf course named “Teeth of the Dog,” rated No. 1 in the Dominican Republic and No. 44 in the world, resort president Andres Pichardo Rosenberg testified. Guests at Punta Cana are “whisked” from the door of their private plane through customs and to a limo for the approximately five-minute ride to their waterfront suites, the resort’s vice president of hospitality testified.
Records showed that Menendez, Melgen and Melgen’s wife stayed at Punta Cana’s Tortuga Bay boutique hotel in September 2010, prosecutors said, and that Melgen paid for incidental expenses in the amount of about $766 for the three-night stay. Defense attorneys were able to show during cross-examination that the room charge was paid for by the resort’s president, a childhood friend of Melgen’s, on the occasion of his son’s wedding that weekend.
Jurors also heard that Melgen spent more than $20,000 to charter a private jet in 2007 when Menendez traveled back to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic and Melgen’s own plane was unavailable. The $875 for eight hours of limo service was in October 2008 in the New York area, but the government’s witness, an executive of the car service, couldn’t say whether both men or just Menendez had used the car.
Testimony was to resume Tuesday.