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Ethics panel closes probe into gifts from Menendez donor

February 6, 2019

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — A U.S. Senate ethics committee has closed its inquiry into Democratic New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez over gifts he received from a friend that led to federal corruption charges.

The committee notified Menendez last week in a letter obtained by several news organizations, including The Associated Press. Last April, the committee severely admonished Menendez and wrote that his actions “reflected discredit on the Senate.”

The gifts from Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen included a Paris vacation and numerous flights on Melgen’s private jet to his villa in the Dominican Republic. The committee began looking into the two men’s relationship more than six years ago.

During his trial in 2017, Menendez’s attorneys characterized the gifts as symbols of the two men’s friendship, which dated back nearly 20 years, and not part of a bribery scheme. Prosecutors sought to connect the trips and Melgen’s campaign donations to actions Menendez took to help the doctor’s business interests, one of which involved an $8.9 million Medicare dispute.

A jury couldn’t reach a verdict after an 11-week trial, and early last year, prosecutors declined to retry both men after the judge dismissed some of the counts in the indictment.

Menendez easily won a third term last November over Republican Bob Hugin.

According to Menendez’s office, he reimbursed all but about $2,000 of a total of $112,000 by the summer of 2014, months before he was indicted. The final $2,000 was paid last fall.

“I’m pleased this issue is closed,” Menendez said in a statement Tuesday.

Melgen is serving a 17-year sentence in Florida after being convicted in a separate case on multiple counts of health care fraud, submitting false claims and falsifying records in patients’ files.

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