NEWARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — A jury that has listened to weeks of testimony and evidence started deliberations Monday in the bribery trial of U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez and a wealthy friend.

Attorneys concluded closing arguments Monday afternoon as the trial entered its 10th week.

Menendez is charged with accepting gifts from co-defendant Salomon Melgen, a Florida eye doctor, over a seven-year period in exchange for pressuring government officials on behalf of Melgen’s business interests. Melgen also contributed more than $600,000 to political organizations that supported Menendez directly or indirectly.

Prosecutors characterized Menendez as Melgen’s “personal senator” in closing arguments. They allege he accepted lavish vacations, flights on Melgen’s private jet and other gifts and repaid Melgen by pushing executive branch officials to resolve the doctor’s $8.9 million Medicare billing dispute and other issues.

Both men deny any bribery arrangement. The defense isn’t disputing the gifts or contributions but it contends it speaks to the close friendship the two share, WCBS 880’s Peter Haskell reported. They referred to each other as “hermano,” or brother.

Menendez contends his meetings and interactions with officials from the departments of state, commerce and health were on policy issues and not to lobby for Melgen.

In their closing arguments last week, Melgen’s attorneys accused prosecutors of lying to jurors by tailoring disparate facts to fit their narrative of the alleged bribery scheme.

Menendez’s lawyer told jurors the prosecution never presented actual evidence of a bribery agreement and didn’t sufficiently connect alleged bribes to actions by Menendez. He said the government’s case was built on assumptions and speculation.

In a rebuttal summation, a prosecutor accused the defense of using a strategy of “distraction and misdirection.”

Menendez served in the U.S. House from 1993 until filling the Senate seat vacated when Jon Corzine became New Jersey governor in 2006.

The trial is the first major federal bribery trial since a 2016 U.S. Supreme Court decision overturned the conviction of former Republican Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and narrowed the definition of official bribery.

If Menendez is convicted and steps down or is voted out by a two-thirds majority before New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie leaves office Jan. 18, the term-limited Republican could appoint a replacement.

(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)


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