N.J. Senator Menendez seeks dismissal of corruption case

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Democratic Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey has asked a federal judge to throw out his indictment for corruption, citing a U.S. Supreme Court ruling narrowing the definition of conduct that can lead to such prosecutions.

FILE PHOTO - U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) speaks during the First Stand Rally in Newark, N.J., U.S. on January 15, 2017. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith/File Photo

Lawyers for the senator in a court filing on Tuesday pointed to the June 2016 Supreme Court decision that overturned the corruption conviction of former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell.

The court found that political activities such as arranging meetings or making calls to officials do not qualify as “official acts” as defined by bribery statutes.

The high court’s decision prompted the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last week to vacate the conviction of Sheldon Silver, the former speaker of the New York State Assembly and one of the state’s most powerful politicians for decades. U.S. prosecutors have said they will retry him.

Other convicted politicians, including former New York State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, have also relied on the McDonnell decision in mounting post-trial appeals.

Menendez, who will seek a third six-year term in 2018 despite the indictment, is accused of accepting campaign donations, luxury travel and gifts from a wealthy friend, Florida ophthalmologist Salomon Melgen, in exchange for using his office to lobby on the doctor’s behalf.

Melgen was convicted in April of an unrelated Medicare scheme in Florida that authorities said robbed the health care program of as much as $105 million. He and Menendez have pleaded not guilty in New Jersey.

Menendez lost a previous bid to dismiss the charges, but his argument in that challenge came before the Supreme Court decision on the McDonnell case.

Menendez’s lawyers argued on Tuesday that the allegations against the senator must be dismissed in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling.

“Placing calls and having meetings to discuss these issues, even if to encourage others to take a particular action –something any citizen can do – are not ‘official acts’ by Senator Menendez under McDonnell,” they wrote.

The U.S. Department of Justice did not immediately comment on the motion on Wednesday.

Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Bernard Orr