POLITICS & GOVERNMENT

Melgen’s wife: Menendez, Melgen friendship was longstanding, genuine

BY David Cruz, Senior Correspondent |

After the letdown of Monday’s failure to dismiss, there was a smaller audience for Tuesday’s proceedings and the case’s plodding pace resumed.

The morning’s session was dominated by testimony from Flor Melgen, the co-defendent’s wife, who testified through an interpreter about the length and breadth of the friendship between her husband and Sen. Bob Menendez.

Exhibits included a number of photos from family events, including her daughter’s wedding. Menendez gave the bride $1,000 gift and Mrs. Melgen testified that Menendez and her husband exchanged various gifts over the years, including gold watches.

Mrs. Melgen also testified that she had asked Menendez for help for a friend who wanted to emigrate to the U.S. She said Menendez recommended a lawyer in Miami, which Mrs. Melgen said she took to mean that he could do nothing else for her on the matter. Asked whether her campaign contributions to Menendez came with any personal expectations for favors, she said, through the interpreter, “When you believe someone can help the community, you want to help them get elected.”

Later, there was some discussion about a 2010 visit paid to the Melgen home by then-Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, who was contemplating a run for U.S. Senate. He stayed at the Melgens and later reimbursed the family $100 for food and lodging. When asked about Crist’s political affiliation at the time, he was in the process of leaving the Republican party. Mrs. Melgen responded that she didn’t know anything about politics.

“You know enough about politics to make a contribution to Sen. Menendez’ campaign though,” said prosecutor Monique Abrishami sarcastically. “He was my friend,” Melgen responded in English.

To end her cross, Abrishami asked Melgen to confirm the note attached to the $100 check from Crist. It read “Sal, thank you very much. Great to spend some time with you and your wonderful family.”

Melgen confirmed that the note came with the check.

“Here’s at least one politician who knows how to pay your husband back,” the prosecutor concluded, a direct reference to gifts received by Menendez.

That line drew an audible reaction from the entire courtroom. The judge then warned the jury to beware of “throwaway questions” and comments.

“They’re an attempt by counsel to make you think a certain way,” he explained, adding, “Ignore them.”

The trial is in its seventh week. It will resume Wednesday with the Menendez defense continuing its case.