NEWARK — Hours after the prosecution rested in its federal corruption case against U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez and co-defendant Salomon Melgen, Judge William Walls cast doubt Wednesday on a theory that’s central to its case.
At the same time, Walls said he will allow the jury to decide whether Menendez filed false reports with the U.S. Senate, a charge seen by many as the toughest to beat.
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At issue is the “stream of benefits” theory of bribery, which defense attorneys argue was invalidated by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2016 decision overturning the corruption conviction of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell. The high court’s unanimous ruling narrowed the type of conduct that can be used to prosecute for corruption.
“I’m particularly concerned about stream of benefits. And we’ll see,” Walls told prosecutor Peter Koski after about three hours of arguments Wednesday afternoon. The arguments were held outside of the jury’s presence.
If Walls rules the theory was invalidated in the McDonnell ruling, he could decide to toss out much of the case before it reaches the jury.
Prosecutors allege Melgen, a wealthy Florida eye doctor, plied Menendez, a Democrat and New Jersey’s senior senator, with political contributions, private jet flights and lavish vacations in exchange for various political favors. Those favors, prosecutors say, included helping Melgen secure visas for former girlfriends, interceding on his behalf in a $9 million Medicare dispute and pressuring officials to get the Dominican Republic to honor a port security contract held by a company Melgen owned.
Prosecutors have not directly linked any…