The U.S. Justice Department has dropped its corruption case against U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez.
This decision came after a mistrial was declared in the proceedings against the New Jersey Democrat and co-defendant Salomon Melgen in November when the jury could not come to a verdict.
The Justice Department refiled the charges earlier this month, but U.S. District Judge William Walls, who heard the original case, dismissed seven of the most serious charges against Menendez and Melgen. Walls said the trial had shown no evidence of wrongdoing in regards to Menendez accepting campaign contributions from Melgen.
This left the lesser charges of Menendez accepting gifts and trips from Melgen. Menendez’s defense team was expected to request that the other charges also be dropped.
But it appears the Justice Department decided the case was not worth pursuing and dropped the remaining charges against both men.
“From the very beginning, I never wavered in my innocence and my belief that justice would prevail,” Menendez said in response to the decision. “I am grateful that the Department of Justice has taken the time to reevaluate its case and come to the appropriate conclusion. I thank God for hearing my prayers and for giving me strength during this difficult time. I have devoted my life to serving the people of New Jersey, and am forever thankful for all who have stood by me. No matter the challenges ahead, I will never stop fighting for New Jersey and the values we share.”
The case could have had serious political implications. Republicans hold a narrow majority in the U.S. Senate and Menendez faces reelection this fall.
The two men were charged in a case that claimed Melgen had given Menendez significant campaign contributions as well as gifts and trips in exchange for helping in solving problems Melgen was having with several agencies of the federal government. Menendez has argued that he simply helped out a constituent.
A number of local officials had urged the federal government to drop the case, from Rep. Albio Sires to Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise.
Men sentenced in connection with largest fentanyl seizure in state history
Two men have been sentenced to state prison in Connecticut in connection with a record-setting fentanyl seizure in North Bergen last year, according to the NJ Attorney General’s Office.
On Jan. 26, a judge sentenced Jesus Carrillo-Pineda, 31, of Philadelphia, to 10 years in state prison. He was charged with possession of heroin with intent to distribute, and will serve a concurrent seven year sentence on a charge of possession of fentanyl with intent to distribute.
Pineda was also charged in connection with the seizure of five fentanyl kilos, almost 40 kilos of heroin, and a smaller quantity of methamphetamine in Willingboro, which happened a day after the North Bergen seizure.
Daniel Vasquez, 28, of Arizona, received a six year prison sentence Jan. 24, a press release said. He was charged with possession of fentanyl with intent to distribute, a press release said. Both men pleaded guilty to their charges on Dec. 18.
Officials seized 40 of the fentanyl kilos from the record bust in North Bergen, with the remaining five kilos seized in Willingboro.
Fentanyl is known as one of the most dangerous opioids. It is 50 times more potent than heroin, and often can’t be counteracted with a narcan. According to the press release, fentanyl caused 417 fatal overdoses in the state in 2015. That number exceeded 800 in 2016.
“Many lives were undoubtedly saved as a result of this record-setting fentanyl seizure by the New Jersey State Police,” said A.G Gurbir Grewal in the release.
“The 100 pounds of fentanyl trafficked into our state by these drug dealers could have generated enough lethal doses to kill the entire populations of New Jersey and New York City combined. Because dealers use this super-potent opioid to boost heroin and create counterfeit oxy pills, drug users are left to play a deadly game of Russian roulette each time they give way to their addiction.”
Hudson County Prosecutor uses new fatal collision unit
The Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office recently established a new Regional Fatal Collision Unit, in partnership with various local agencies.
The new unit will include crime scene personnel from the prosecutor’s office equipped with the latest available collision technology software, along with a specially-equipped vehicle, an aerial drone, and newly acquired laser scanning and measuring equipment.
A dedicated group of assistant prosecutors will be working with the unit and will be on call at all times.
In 2017 there were 26 deaths caused by vehicle collisions in Hudson County. Of those, 18 (70 percent) were pedestrians or pedal cyclists. Due to the high rate of fatal collisions in the region, Suarez, along with police chiefs throughout the county, determined that citizens required highly trained detectives with the most up-to-date equipment at their disposal.
Just one day after the Jan. 25 press conference announcing the implementation of the new unit, it was involved in the investigation and arrest of a suspected driver in a fatal hit-and-run in Jersey City.
Hudson County CASA is seeking volunteers
Learn how to become a CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) volunteer and help foster children find safe and permanent homes. The next information session will be held at the Hudson County Courthouse, 595 Newark Ave. Rm. 901 on Tuesday, Feb. 6 at 6:30 p.m.
Hudson County Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) is a non-profit organization committed to advocating for the best interests of abused and neglected children. CASA works through trained community volunteers to ensure that needed services and assistance are made available to children while helping to move them toward safe and permanent homes. Hudson County CASA volunteers are everyday people who make a direct impact in foster children’s lives. They are trusted, dedicated adults who seek to improve children’s well-being. CASA volunteers get to know their assigned child and his or her circumstances and provide valuable information to the court. Judges rely on the volunteers’ recommendations to make the best decisions about the children’s futures.
For further information, visit www.hudsoncountycasa.org.