The bribery case against Sen. Robert Menendez ended with a mistrial Thursday after seven tense days of deliberations by a deeply divided jury.
Newark Federal Court Judge Williams Walls announced the mistrial shortly after 1 p.m. following the second jury note in four days announcing the panel was at an impasse.
“I’ve made my share of mistakes,” said a relieved yet angry Menendez. “But my mistakes were never a crime.”
The smiling senator hugged his son and daughter inside the courtroom as it became clear the trial’s finish was imminent, and he briefly broke down when thanking both outside the courthouse.
The two-term senator also unleashed a lengthy harangue against both the FBI and federal prosecutors.
“The way this case started was wrong,” Menendez declared. “The way it was investigated was wrong. The way it was prosecuted was wrong. And the way it was tried was wrong as well.
“Certain elements of the FBI and our state cannot understand or accept that the Latino kid from Union City and Hudson County can grow up to be a U.S. senator — and be honest.”
The jurors, after sitting through an 11-week trial, returned to the courthouse Thursday to resume their discussion but quickly sent word they were at the end of their deliberating rope.
The jury’s note declared that although they had reviewed the evidence “slowly and thoroughly and in great detail,” the panel’s split remained irrevocable.
“We cannot reach a unanimous decision on any of the charges,” the missive continued. “Nor are we willing to move away from our strong convictions.”
The jurors sent a similar note on Monday, with Walls instructing the divided group to keep deliberating the case against the New Jersey Democrat.
There was no immediate word on whether the U.S. Attorney’s office would mount a second prosecution against Menendez, who is up for reelection in 2018.
Menendez is charged in an 18-count indictment with accepting gifts from close friend and co-defendant Salomon Melgen in return for exerting his political influence.
(Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Wells, joined by attorneys on both sides, spent an hour interviewing jurors in the judge’s chambers before making his decision to end the deliberations.
The defense team quickly asked Walls to declare a mistrial, while prosecutors urged the judge to continue the deliberations.
Jurors appeared haggard and fatigued Wednesday as they left the courtroom.
Menendez, 63, is charged in an 18-count indictment with accepting gifts from close friend of 20 years and co-defendant Salomon Melgen in return for exerting his political influence.
Prosecutors charged the longtime senator accepted flights on Florida eye doctor Melgen’s private jet, along with luxury vacations and other gifts, in return for helping his pal’s girlfriends obtain U.S. visas.
Menendez was also charged with intervening on the wealthy Melgen’s behalf in an $ 8.9 million Medicare billing dispute by leaning on government officials.
The senator was also charged with failing to report any of the Melgen gifts on Senate disclosure forms as required by law.
Melgen’s largesse including six-figure campaign contributions to the senator, according to prosecutors. Neither Menendez nor Melgen, 63, testified on their own behalf.
Defense attorneys countered that Menendez and Melgen were longtime buddies and the gifts, rather than bribes, reflected their close relationship.
Melgen, in a separate Florida prosecution, was convicted this past April on federal charges linked to the Medicare case.
He was accused of overbilling Medicare for doses of the drug Lucentis, and with providing unnecessary treatment to hundreds of patients based on deliberate misdiagnosis.