Defense calls Menendez’ longtime confidante to witness stand

BY Michael Aron, Chief Political Correspondent |

The name Donald Scarinci resonates in state political circles. Scarinci has been Bob Menendez’s best friend and closest political confidante going back to the 1970s. He raises money for Menendez’s campaigns. The defense called him as a witness Tuesday.

In 2012, Scarinci raised a million dollars for a Democratic PAC. The money was earmarked for New Jersey, where Menendez was up for re-election. Six hundred thousand dollars of that came from Dr. Salomon Melgen. Melgen is on trial with Menendez for conspiracy to commit bribery. The government contends Melgen made the campaign contributions and gave Menendez free flights and vacations in return for help from Menendez with several federal agencies.

On the witness stand, Scarinci said he, not Menendez, solicited the campaign contributions from Melgen. He explained to the jurors there were two PACs he worked with. One, called Majority PAC, disclosed its donors. The other, Patriot Majority, kept them secret. Melgen chose to give to the one that disclosed.

Defense Attorney Abbe Lowell let the jury deduce that if it was a bribe, Melgen would have kept it secret. Federal Prosecutor Peter Koski, on cross-examination, tried to link Menendez to the checks Melgen sent Scarinci.

“Mr. Scarinci, you spoke to Sen. Menendez about Majority PAC, didn’t you?” Koski asked.

“Yes, along with other people,” Scarinci replied.

“You spoke to Sen. Menendez before you started to raise money for Majority PAC earmarked for New Jersey, isn’t that right?” Koski asked.

“There was no cause and effect to that,” Scarinci shot back, in defense of his friend.

In the Senate race that year, Menendez was facing Republican Joe Kyrillos. Scarinci described how concerned Democrats were that Kyrillos would be well financed. On Oct. 12, Jeb Bush came into New Jersey for Kyrillos and raised $1 million. That same day, Melgen sent Scarinci a check for $300,000, the second installment of his $600,000 contribution.

Cross-examination of Scarinci continues Wednesday.