POLITICS & GOVERNMENT

Former Black Ministers leader testifies for Menendez

BY Michael Aron, Chief Political Correspondent |

On May 24, 2012, Sen. Bob Menendez confidante Donald Scarinci flew to Florida to have a meal with and solicit campaign contributions from two men.

Raul Alarcon, the head of Spanish Broadcasting System would eventually donate $100,000. Menendez’s co-defendant, Dr. Salomon Melgen, wrote a check eight days later for $300,000. Menendez and Melgen are accused of engaging in a bribery conspiracy.

The defense says of Scarinci’s Florida visit, if you’re facilitating a bribe, do you invite other people? That was referring to Alarcon’s presence at the restaurant. That was one of the points brought out Wednesday as Scarinci returned to the witness stand.

Tuesday, Scarinci testified that it was he, not Menendez, who solicited the contributions. His testimony tried to create distance between Menendez and the large donation from Melgen, which would later be doubled.

Wednesday morning, on cross-examination, the government tried to say there is no distance between Menendez and his friend of 45 years, Scarinci.

Federal Prosecutor Peter Koski asked tough questions. Scarinci answered them with thinly disguised contempt. The defense called the Reverend Reginald Jackson as its next witness. He said in his 20 years as executive director of the New Jersey Black Ministers Council, “I found [Menendez] to be forthright and honest, a man of integrity.”

Jackson is now Bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church for the state of Georgia. He flew up from Atlanta to give five minutes of testimony. The government didn’t ask him for a thing.

The last witness of the day was Robert Kelly, Menendez’s deputy chief of staff for operations. Kelly prepares the senator’s annual financial disclosure report.

Menendez is accused of failing to report as gifts a disputed number of free flights on Melgen’s private jet over seven years.

“Did the senator take the filing of this financial disclosure report seriously?” asked Menendez defense attorney Abbe Lowell.

“Yes, he did,” replied the loyal staffer.

For the remainder of the day, Kelly withstood a withering cross-examination from federal prosecutor Monique Abrishami. The trial resumes Thursday.