In the corruption trial of U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez on Wednesday, a witness identified New Jersey lawyer Donald Scarinci as the go-between who procured $700,000 in campaign contributions from co-defendant Salomon Melgen on the senator’s behalf.
Scarinci asked Melgen to donate the funds to Senate Majority PAC, a Democratic campaign fund, according to testimony from Jake Perry, a founder and fundraiser for the political action committee. Perry identified Scarinci in response to questioning from Jenny Kramer, a lawyer representing Menendez, about the origin of the contributions, which are cited in the indictment of Menendez and Melgen. Perry said most of the 2012 contribution—$600,000—was given by Melgen with the intention that it fund races in New Jersey, but the remaining $100,000 carried no such limitation.
Scarinci, reached by phone after Wednesday’s proceedings, would neither confirm nor deny having any role in procuring contributions from Melgen. His only comment was: “stay tuned.”
Scarinci, a childhood friend of Menendez, is a founder of Scarinci Hollenbeck, a 65-lawyer Lyndhurst firm. He was ranked No. 71 on Politicker NJ’s 2016 list of the state’s most powerful people.
Melgen never made any explicit demands in exchange for the contributions, Perry said in response to questioning from Kramer. While images of the contribution checks were projected on a screen for the jury, Perry noted that the checks’ memo lines were left blank. The checks were drawn on the account of Melgen’s business, Vitreo-Retinal Consultants.
Perry’s testimony closed the third week of trial for Menendez and Melgen, with proceedings to resume on Oct. 10. The trial is expected to run until Thanksgiving. Menendez is charged with honest services fraud, violation of the Travel Act, bribery, making false statements, and related conspiracy charges.
In brief remarks outside the courthouse Wednesday, Menendez said he was returning to Washington for the weekend but would be back in Newark when the trial resumes. He declined to comment on the trial’s substance.
“I’m here because I have a constitutional right to confront my accusers,” he said. Asked about the trial’s impact on his ability to perform as a senator, Menendez said, “I have been able to be effective even though I’ve not been able to physically cast votes,” citing passage of bills that he supported.
Menendez is accused of accepting trips and campaign contributions worth nearly $1 million from Melgen in exchange for interceding on the doctor’s behalf with executive-branch officials in a Medicare billing dispute, visa applications for Melgen’s girlfriends, and in a dispute between Melgen’s port-security company and the government of the Dominican Republic.
Lawyers for Melgen and Menendez have moved to dismiss the indictment based on the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2016 ruling in McDonnell v. United States, in which the corruption convictions of former Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, were overturned. The McDonnell ruling has been read to set a narrow definition of the term “official act” in bribery cases.
The McDonnell ruling was key in a Sept. 26 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit overturning a bribery conviction of former New York State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, and a July 13 decision by the Second Circuit vacating the corruption conviction of New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.
U.S. District Judge William Walls, who is presiding over the trial of Menendez and Melgen, has indicated he will rule on the motion to dismiss at the close of the prosecution’s case.