After weeks of speculation, U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) was indicted by the U.S. Department of Justice on a multitude of corruption charges on April 1, leaving the Hudson County mainstay embroiled in the political fight of his life.
By John Heinis/Hudson County View
Menendez, whose first elected position was as a trustee of the Union City Board of Education at the age of 20, boasts one of the most workmanlike rises to prominence in New Jersey history.
Serving as the Union City mayor, assemblyman, state senator and congressman before finally appointed as a U.S. Senator in December 2005, the Saint Peter’s University alumnus built up a reputation as a champion of the common man.
Of course, that didn’t halt the occasional tale of a ruthless Menendez ruling Hudson County with an iron fist, some of which weren’t hard to believe given that he was instrumental in sending his former boss and mentor William “Bill” Musto to jail – one of the most notorious (and corrupt) HudCo pols of all time.
Nevertheless, the myth and legend of Menendez continued to grow to historic proportions, to the point where he was on the hypothetical short list of U.S. Secretary of State choices should Hilary Clinton find her way into the White House in 2016.
However, on April Fool’s Day of this year, Menendez got dealt a blow he could initially hope was just a bad joke: a 14-count federal indictment that alleges he used his office to repeatedly benefit his longtime friend and political donor Salomon Melgen, a Florida ophthalmologist.
The scrappy Menendez was quick to counterpunch, stating on the evening he was indicted that he was “outraged” by the charges, further stating that “I will be vindicated and they will be exposed.”
Also boldly stating the indictment stems from “political opponents trying to silence me,” Menendez supporters have written the charges off as retaliation by the Barack Obama administration for the senator denouncing restoring diplomatic relations with Cuba and opposing the president’s Iran nuclear deal.
Menendez pleaded not guilty to the charges in U.S. District federal court in Newark.
After a brief dispute with Judge William Walls over whether the trial should be held in Washington D.C. or New Jersey, the discovery process has gotten interesting with Menendez’s legal team (led by Abbe Lowell, whom many consider a demigod among criminal defense attorneys) accusing an FBI agent of giving false testimony.
While both sides will inevitably drop some heavy claims over the next several months (years?), Menendez scored his victory in the case in September when Walls threw out four of the bribery claims against him (h/t New York Times).
Also worth mentioning is that Menendez is still proceeding forward with business as usual in recent memory.
He hosted his 6th annual Hispanic Heritage Month celebration at his native Union City High School in September, pouncing on the opportunity to torch Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump, and marching through North Hudson in the New Jersey Hispanic Parade in October.
This entry comes in at Number 5 since relatively little else has happened since the indictment and the trial, if we ever get that far, is still a long ways off.