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United States v. Menendez

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

June 16, 2015

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
ROBERT MENENDEZ and SALOMON MELGEN, Defendants.

OPINION

WILLIAM H. WALLS, District Judge.

Defendants Robert Menendez and Salomon Melgen move to transfer this criminal case to the District Court for the District of Columbia under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 21(b). After oral argument on June 16, 2015, [1] the Court denies the motion.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

The defendants have been indicted in the District of New Jersey on charges of bribery and related crimes. Indictment, ECF No. 1. Robert Menendez has represented New Jersey in the United States Senate since 2006. Salomon Melgen is an ophthalmologist who resides and practices his profession in Florida.

Senator Menendez and Dr. Melgen were indicted on April 1, 2015 by a grand jury convened in Newark, New Jersey.

Count One of the indictment charges Defendants with conspiracy to commit bribery and honest services wire fraud. Id. ¶¶ 1-227. Count Two charges Senator Menendez with violation of the Travel Act, and Dr. Melgen with aiding and abetting the violation. Id. ¶¶ 228-29.

Counts Three through Eight charge Defendants with bribery, alleging that Senator Menendez sought and received flights from Dr. Melgen in return for being influenced in his performance of official acts. Id. ¶¶ 230-41. Counts Three and Four relate to private flights Senator Menendez allegedly received "to the Dominican Republic, starting in the Washington Metropolitan Area and ending in Teterboro, New Jersey, with stops in West Palm Beach, Florida." Id. ¶¶ 230-33. Counts Five and Six relate to private flights Senator Menendez allegedly received "to the Dominican Republic for himself and a guest, starting and ending in Teterboro, New Jersey, with stops in West Palm Beach, Florida." Id. ¶¶ 234-37. Counts Seven and Eight relate to flights Senator Menendez allegedly received from Newark, New Jersey to West Palm Beach, Florida and from West Palm Beach to Washington, D.C. Id. ¶¶ 238-41.

Counts Nine through Eighteen also charge Defendants with bribery, alleging that Senator Menendez sought and received financial contributions from Dr. Melgen that benefitted his personal and political interests in return for being influenced in his performance of official acts. Id. ¶¶ 242-61. Counts Nine through Twelve relate to two alleged $20, 000 contributions by Dr. Melgen to The Fund to Uphold the Constitution, "a legal defense trust fund that benefitted" Senator Menendez. Id. ¶¶ 242-49. Counts Thirteen and Fourteen relate to Dr. Melgen's alleged $40, 000 contribution to the New Jersey Democratic State Committee Victory Federal Account. Id. ¶¶ 250-53. Counts Fifteen and Sixteen relate to Dr. Melgen's first alleged $300, 000 contribution to Majority PAC "that was earmarked for the New Jersey Senate race." Id. ¶¶ 254-57. Counts Seventeen and Eighteen relate to Dr. Melgen's alleged $103, 500 contribution to "various New Jersey county Democratic Party entities" and to his alleged second $300, 000 contribution to Majority PAC "earmarked for the New Jersey Senate race." Id. ¶¶ 258-61.

Counts Nineteen through Twenty-One charge Defendants with honest services fraud. Id. ¶¶ 262-65. These counts allege that Senator Menendez and Dr. Melgen intentionally devised a scheme to defraud and deprive the United States and New Jersey citizens of Senator Menendez's honest services. To meet the pleading requirements for these counts, the indictment alleges that in furtherance of their scheme Defendants caused airplane pilots to communicate over interstate wires from New Jersey air space and caused a $300, 000 check to be sent from New Jersey by interstate mail. Id. Finally, Count Twenty-Two charges Senator Menendez with making false statements in Senate financial disclosure forms when he failed to disclose gifts from Dr. Melgen. Id. ¶¶ 266-72.

In exchange for the alleged flights and financial contributions, among other things, the indictment asserts that Senator Menendez took official actions to benefit Dr. Melgen. These actions fall into three categories. First, the indictment alleges that Senator Menendez "used his position as a United States Senator to influence the visa proceedings of [Dr. Melgen's] foreign girlfriends." Id. ¶ 70. Second, it alleges that Senator Menendez advocated for Dr. Melgen's financial interests regarding a contract dispute between a private company and the Dominican Republic. Id. ¶¶ 117-43. Third, the indictment charges that Senator Menendez advocated for Dr. Melgen's financial interests regarding a Medicare billing dispute at the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Id. ¶¶ 144-227. Much of Senator Menendez's and his staff members' alleged activity and advocacy took place over email or in meetings with other government officials and employees.

LEGAL STANDARD

Upon a defendant's motion, a "court may transfer the proceeding, or one or more counts, against that defendant to another district for the convenience of the parties, any victim, and the witnesses, and in the interest of justice." Fed. R. Crim. P. 21(b). Motions under Rule 21(b) are "generally committed to the discretion of the district courts." In re U.S., 273 F.3d 380, 387 (3d Cir. 2001). The burden is on the defendant to show that transfer is appropriate. Id. at 389. The defendant need not show "truly compelling circumstances, " but rather that, "all relevant things considered, the case would be better off transferred to another district." Id. at 388 (quoting In re Balsimo, 68 F.3d 185, 186 (7th Cir. 1995)).

The Supreme Court has endorsed ten factors for courts to consider in deciding Rule 21(b) motions:

(1) location of [the] defendant; (2) location of possible witnesses; (3) location of events likely to be in issue; (4) location of documents and records likely to be involved; (5) potential disruption of defendant's business unless the case is transferred; (6) expense to the parties; (7) location of counsel; (8) relative accessibility of place of trial; (9) docket condition of each district or division involved; and (10) any other special elements which might affect the transfer.

Platt v. Minnesota Mining & Manufacturing Co., 376 U.S. 240, 243-44 (1964).[2] "Ordinarily the various factors appear in combination, with some pointing in favor of transfer and others against transfer." United States v. Coffee, 113 F.Supp.2d 751, 753-54 (E.D. Pa. 2000). The court must strike a balance "among the most important factors in the particular case to determine whether transfer is appropriate." In re U.S., 273 F.3d at 388.

DISCUSSION

Defendants now argue that eight of the Platt factors favor transfer and the others are neutral.[3] Defs.' Mem. 4-5, ECF No. 18-1. The Government contends that the Platt factors weigh against transfer. Govt.'s Opp. 3, ECF No. 25. In their reply brief, Defendants call the Government's analysis disingenuous because it contradicts the Government's arguments about transferring the 2008 prosecution of Senator Ted Stevens. Defs.' Reply 1-2, ECF No. 28.

Before proceeding, the Court must make clear that the Stevens case is neither controlling nor influencing precedent. It involved a different defendant, different charges, different facts, and a strikingly different geographic choice-the question of whether to transfer the case 4, 350 miles from its origin in Washington, D.C. to Anchorage, Alaska. By comparison, the 218 miles between Newark and Washington seem negligible. Nor is the Court impressed by Defendants' claim that the Government must take the same positions here that it took in Stevens. The Court ...


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