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Saturday November 25th, 2017 4:38AM

Judge tells Menendez jury to 'take as much time as you need'

By The Associated Press
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NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — A judge told deadlocked jurors in Sen. Bob Menendez's bribery trial on Tuesday to "take as much time as you need" to try to reach a verdict on 18 counts against the New Jersey Democrat and his wealthy friend.

The panel sent a note to U.S. District Judge William Walls on Monday afternoon saying they couldn't reach a unanimous verdict on any of the counts. Walls told them to sleep on it and return in the morning.

On Tuesday, he reminded them that juries frequently take time to come to a consensus.

"Take as much time as you need," he said. "This is not reality TV. This is real life."

Deliberations began last week, but the jury restarted on Monday after a juror was excused for a previously scheduled vacation and was replaced by an alternate.

The trial is in its 11th week. Menendez and Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen are charged with running a bribery scheme between 2006 and 2013 in which Menendez lobbied government officials on Melgen's behalf in exchange for luxury vacations and flights on Melgen's private plane.

The men each face about a dozen counts including bribery, fraud and conspiracy. Menendez also is charged with making false statements for failing to report Melgen's gifts on Senate disclosure forms.

Both men deny the allegations. Defense attorneys have sought to show jurors that the two men are longtime pals who exchanged gifts out of friendship. They also contend Menendez's meetings with government officials were focused on broad policy issues.

The government spent more than two years investigating the New Jersey senator's ties with Melgen before indicting them in the spring of 2015. Menendez, the former chair of the Senate foreign relations committee, has maintained his innocence since then, and has raised more than $6 million for his campaign and legal defense fund since the indictment.

A mistrial also would aid Menendez by not subjecting him to pressure to step down in the event of a conviction. Conversely, the charges likely would be hanging over him as he seeks re-election next year, assuming the government seeks a retrial.

The trial is the first major federal corruption trial since a 2016 U.S. Supreme Court ruling raised the bar for prosecutors to prove official bribery. That ruling, which overturned the conviction of former Republican Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, played a significant role in how the jury was instructed in the Menendez trial.

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