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Judge tosses four bribery counts in Menendez indictment

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SEPTEMBER 28, 2015, 4:20 PM    LAST UPDATED: MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 28, 2015, 6:03 PM

A federal judge on Monday dismissed four of the bribery counts in a 22-count indictment against Sen. Robert Menendez and Florida eye specialist Salomon Melgen, but most of the charges remain.

U.S. District Judge William H. Walls threw out charges that $40,000 in contributions by Melgen to a legal defense fund Menendez created in 2010 were bribes. But Walls rejected arguments by lawyers for Melgen and Menendez that another $700,000 in contributions Melgen made to political funds were protected by the First Amendment, ruling instead that a jury could decide if they were bribes.

“Defendants are correct that attempts to influence a public official through speech alone are protected,” Walls wrote. “But the Constitution does not protect an attempt to influence a public official’s acts through improper means, such as the bribery scheme alleged in this case. The government has adequately alleged that Melgen made contributions in an effort to control the exercise of Menendez’s official duties.”