Judge declares mistrial in Menendez bribery trial

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Judge declares mistrial in Menendez bribery trial

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NEWARK, N.J. — A federal judge declared a mistrial Thursday afternoon in the bribery trial of New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez after jurors said they were again deadlocked in the case.

Jurors remained unable to reach a unanimous verdict — the second time in four days — even though they went through evidence slowly and thoroughly, defense attorney Abbe Lowell told U.S. District Judge William Walls. Lowell said jurors had a strong difference in viewpoints since deliberations began seven days ago.

Image: Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) in Federal Court, on Nov. 16, 2017.

The trial against Menendez, a Democrat, was the first in 36 years to involve a sitting senator facing federal bribery charges, the most serious of which carries a 20-year maximum prison sentence.

Prosecutors labeled the 63-year-old lawmaker as the "personal senator" to Florida ophthalmologist, Dr. Salomon Melgen, who is also on trial. Melgen was already found guilty in April of health care-related fraud.

Related: Menendez Jury Deadlocked, Judge Says Keep Deliberating

Prosecutors told jurors that Melgen had offered his private jet for the two-term senator's use, showered him with luxury trips and steered more than $750,000 in campaign contributions to entities supporting Menendez.

Menendez reciprocated by aiding Melgen's business interests, prosecutors added, including helping him with a Medicare billing dispute and obtaining visas for foreign women described as Melgen's girlfriends.

Defense attorneys said Menendez's meetings on behalf of Melgen were to discuss policy issues, and various trips to the Dominican Republic were merely social visits between friends.

Both defendants initially pleaded not guilty in 2015 to 18 counts of bribery and fraud. Neither took the witness stand during the 11-week trial, which included more than 55 witnesses, from FBI agents to plane pilots.

One juror, Evelyn Arroyo-Maultsby, was excused from the trial last week because of a previous engagement. She told reporters that most jurors appeared in favor of acquittal.

"I think the defense showed me enough to say he's not guilty on every count," Arroyo-Maultsby said.

Adam Reiss reported from Newark, and Erik Ortiz reported from New York.

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