Bob Menendez: The Early Years
Bob Menendez began his political career at age nineteen with his election to the Union City Board of Education as part of the William Musto machine-backed slate of candidates. In 1978 Menendez gave up his seat to serve as the school board’s chief financial officer. Musto was then mayor of Union City and a state senator.
In 1981 a federal grand jury was impaneled to investigate political corruption in Union City. Menendez was subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury that ultimately indicted Musto and six other Union City officials on 36 counts of racketeering, extortion and fraud.
At the 1982 corruption trial Bob Menendez and a construction contractor, Rudolph Orlandini, were star witnesses. Menendez testified as the school board’s chief financial officer during the time contractor Orlandini was paying $700,000 in bribes to city and school officials. The bribes were offered in exchange for allowing the contractor to over bill the district by more than $2 million for renovations at two district high schools.
The scheme collapsed when the Board of Education ran out of money before Orlandini had finished work on the school construction projects. Under pressure for cash from his organized crime associates, Orlandini became a government informant, taping school board and city officials.
According to the trial transcript Menendez said he had alerted his political mentor, Musto, that he would be testifying before the grand jury and that he had been interviewed by the FBI. Menendez said Musto had suggested he decline to testify, citing the possibility of self-incrimination. He also said Musto had told him that an FBI informant - the bribe-paying contractor - had been taped talking about bribing Menendez.
Under cross-examination, Menendez admitted that he never told the grand jury about the conversation with Musto, and that he told prosecutors only after he found out from newspaper accounts that the secretly recorded tapes did not implicate him. Menendez conceded that even after 12 appearances before a grand jury, he supported Musto's bid for re-election as state senator and mayor.
Menendez also admitted that he had written two, one million dollar checks to Orlandini, for the same invoice, but said that it was nothing more than an error in bookkeeping.
Musto, along with six city school officials and contractors were convicted in the corruption case. Musto was reelected, but his prison sentence prevented him from fulfilling the mandate of the people. The contractor Orlandini confessed to paying hundreds of thousands in bribes, but was placed in the federal witness protection program. After the trial Menendez said "I had no choice but to testify. I did not go running to Newark.” Menendez continued on with his political career.
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