New Jersey Republicans seek tougher anti-bribery laws



(The Center Square) — New Jersey Republicans are pushing to increase the state’s penalties for bribery in the wake of the federal charges against Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez.

A proposal from state Sen. Ed Durr, R-Logan, would require anyone convicted of accepting a bribe to serve a mandatory minimum sentence in prison ranging from three to five years, depending on the crime’s severity and the bribery’s value.

Durr cited the federal indictment against Menendez last week on bribery and corruption charges and said if New Jersey’s leaders are serious about rooting out corruption from public offices, the state needs to set stricter penalties.

“Elected officials who are convicted of bribery need more than a slap on the wrist to deter this despicable behavior,” he said in a statement. “Taxpayers need to know that public officials will be held accountable if they are convicted of a crime.”

Currently, New Jersey law sets fines ranging from $15,000 to $150,000 and jail time from three to 10 years, depending on the value of the bribe, but allows those convicted under the charges to seek parole before their sentence ends. Durr’s bill would require anyone convicted of accepting a bribe to serve a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison.

“The culture of corruption that has been allowed to persist in New Jersey must come to an end,” he said. “If you accept a bribe, this bill will make sure you do the time.”

Last week, federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York unsealed a 39-page indictment accusing Menendez and his wife of accepting “hundreds of thousands of dollars” in bribes for using his political influence to benefit the Egyptian government and business associates in New Jersey.

Federal prosecutors say that Menendez and his wife received bribes, including cash, gold, luxury vehicles and vacations, mortgage payments and other forms of compensation. Authorities found cash and gold bars during a search of his home. He has denied any wrongdoing and pleaded not guilty during his arraignment Wednesday at a federal court in New York.

This is the second time Menendez has been indicted on bribery allegations while a senator. In 2015, he was charged with illegally accepting favors from a Florida physician, including trips on a private jet, vacations to Paris and more than $700,000 in political contributions. The case ended in a mistrial after jurors could not reach a unanimous verdict.

Menendez is facing calls to resign from top New Jersey Democrats, including fellow Sen. Cory Booker and Gov. Phil Murphy, in addition to nearly 20 of his Democratic colleagues in the Senate.

So far, he has declined to step down despite losing his position as the chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

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