The corruption trial of Democratic U.S. Senator Bob Menendez ended in a mistrial on Thursday, after the jury said it was hopelessly deadlocked on bribery, fraud and other charges, according to multiple news reporters in the courtroom.
Menendez, 63, a longtime fixture in New Jersey political circles who first joined the Senate in 2006, was accused of accepting private flights, campaign contributions and other bribes from a wealthy patron, Florida ophthalmologist Salomon Melgen, in exchange for official favors.
The jury deliberated for most of last week before restarting their discussions on Monday after one juror had to be replaced due to a scheduling conflict. Jurors first indicated they were having trouble reaching a verdict on Monday.
"I find you are unable to reach a verdict and that further deliberations would be futile, and that there is no alternative but to declare a mistrial," U.S. Judge Williams Walls told jurors on Thursday, according to a Twitter post from a Philadelphia Inquirer reporter.
The hung jury is a major setback for federal prosecutors in what was their first high-profile corruption trial since a U.S. Supreme Court decision last year limited their ability to bring such cases.
The Justice Department can still pursue a second trial, though it was not immediately clear whether prosecutors would choose to do so.
Defense attorneys argued that prosecutors had cherry-picked gifts exchanged between close friends in an effort to suggest impropriety when none existed.
The verdict provides at least temporary relief for Menendez's Democratic colleagues in the Senate. Had Menendez been convicted, Republicans would likely have pushed for either resignation or expulsion, giving Republican New Jersey Governor Chris Christie a chance to replace him and extend the Republicans' current 52-48 edge.
(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Chris Reese and Tom Brown)