NEWARK, N.J. — Just hours after the FBI executed a search warrant on the business offices of a Florida eye doctor accused of bribing U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez with gifts such as trips on his private jet, the doctor's son-in-law asked a federal agency to block public access to flight records, a federal prosecutor said Monday.
The FBI raided Florida ophthalmologist Salomon Melgen's offices on Jan. 30, 2013. Just after midnight on Jan. 31, Melgen's son-in-law asked the Federal Aviation Administration to stop sharing prospective flight records with third-party websites that sell that information to groups such as news organizations, an FAA official testified in federal court here.
The FAA granted the request, registering Melgen's jet with the agency's Block Aircraft Registry Request program. Peter Koski, a federal prosecutor, told jurors that the government had obtained records from Melgen's business shortly before the doctor's son-in-law Eduardo Rodriguez filed the request with the FAA.
When jurors were out of the courtroom, Koski told U.S. District Judge William H. Walls that the timing of the request showed that Melgen knew he was guilty of a crime.
Defense attorneys noted that the flight records weren't concealed from the government. The FAA official also testified that it was not possible to retroactively block data related to Melgen's private jet, so that information was available to the public.
Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, and Melgen are charged with bribery, honest-services fraud, and related counts. Prosecutors say Melgen bribed Menendez with trips to exclusive villas in the Dominican Republic, a three-night stay at an upscale Paris hotel, and hundreds of thousands of dollars of campaign contributions.
In return, the government says, Menendez used the power of his office to advance Melgen's personal and financial interests, including by lobbying various government officials over Melgen's multimillion dollar billing dispute with Medicare.
The senator says prosecutors are attempting to criminalize his longtime friendship with Melgen.
Jurors on Monday also heard testimony from executives at Dominican resorts where Melgen paid for Menendez's trips, including to Casa de Campo, where the doctor owns a home.
Andres Pichardo Rosenberg, president of Casa de Campo, testified that the 7,000-acre seaside resort featured five golf courses, including the No. 44-ranked course in the world; a country club; skeet shooting; and other amenities. Prosecutors showed jurors photos of the resort.
The value of the homes where Melgen owns a villa ranges from $1.1 million to $2.5 million, Pichardo Rosenberg testified.
Abbe Lowell, an attorney for Menendez, asked the witness, "Do you know from your review of the documents whether Robert Menendez got a massage, got a boat, used a beach … and how many strokes he had on that hole?"
"No, I don't," Pichardo Rosenberg responded. "We don't keep count of scores."
The trial is in its third week and is expected to last through late November.