Inside the Menendez Jury, Tense Talks and a Fleeting Deal to Convict

  • Juror says she balked after 12-0 vote on false-statement count
  • Husband says ‘conscience was telling her’ she was being unfair

The jury considering corruption charges against U.S. Senator Robert Menendez was three days into deliberations when Juror 8 left her post to pack up for a Caribbean cruise. What she said on the way out has the potential to upend the nine-week trial.

Menendez exits federal court

Photographer: Peter Foley/Bloomberg

The juror, Evelyn Arroyo-Maultsby, said she and her fellow panelists believed prosecutors failed to make a compelling case against Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat whom she called a good man and “not at all corrupt.” Her remarks to reporters on Thursday behind Newark’s federal courthouse were unusual enough, revealing usually secretive jury deliberations in a way that could ultimately raise concerns from the judge.

Another one of her revelations may have darker implications for Menendez. In an interview with Bloomberg, Arroyo-Maultsby said that all 12 jurors had at one point agreed that the sitting lawmaker was guilty of one criminal charge -- making false statements by failing to disclose gifts on his Senate ethics forms -- which would have given him a felony conviction.

But then came a dissent, from Arroyo-Maultsby herself. She went home for the night and had a change of heart, she said in the interview at her home in Hillside, New Jersey, where her husband, Russell Maultsby, at times joined her. "Her conscience was telling her that she was being unfair to that man," he said.

During deliberations on Thursday, she said Menendez should be acquitted on that count as well and another juror took her side. Deliberations turned tense, she said. Fellow jurors said she’d soon be off the panel, leaving her to believe her vote didn’t matter. She raised her concerns about a “very unfair” process in a note for the judge, she said.

Evelyn Arroyo-Maultsby

Photographer: David Voreacos/Bloomberg

‘Worst Case’

The question now is whether her public comments will complicate the jury’s work. Deliberations could continue uninterrupted with an alternate juror in Arroyo-Maultsby’s place, said several lawyers not involved in the case. However, Michael Weinstein, a former Justice Department lawyer, said her mid-deliberation comments could make a complex case even more convoluted.

U.S. District Judge William Walls, who has repeatedly implored jurors to avoid news accounts of the trial, is likely to question the remaining 11 jurors and the alternate who replaced her about whether they saw Arroyo-Maultsby’s public comments, Weinstein said.

“As a worst-case scenario, the judge could declare a mistrial,” said Weinstein. “That’s the ultimate leverage the judge has if he thinks the jury has been tainted.”

Arroyo-Maultsby’s peek into the jury’s inner workings resulted from a promise the judge made when she was selected in August. At the time, Arroyo-Maultsby told Walls that she had a family vacation planned in mid-November -- a cruise in the Bahamas that would include a wedding and the celebration of her husband’s 60th birthday. 

Judge’s Bet

Walls rejected a defense attorney’s caution that the case could be in session until Thanksgiving. “I will bet you a nickel against $700 million in the Lotto that we are not,” Walls replied.

But on the afternoon of Nov. 6, after two months and dozens of witnesses, the jury convened to consider the government’s case that Menendez accepted bribes from Salomon Melgen, a Florida eye doctor who is his longtime friend and donor. 

The jurors had heard prosecutors argue that Melgen gave the senator gifts such as private jet travel, a vacation in Paris and hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign donations. Menendez, in exchange, helped Melgen with a port security contract in the Dominican Republican, visas for three of the doctor’s girlfriends and an $8.9 million Medicare overbilling dispute, the U.S. argued.

By Wednesday, the second full day of deliberation, jurors were leaning toward acquitting Menendez on 17 of the 18 counts of conspiracy, bribery and honest service fraud, Arroyo-Maultsby said in the interview. The exception was jurors’ unanimous agreement, as of Wednesday, that Menendez made false statements. That didn’t sit well with her, Arroyo-Maultsby said Thursday.

“I came home very upset because I changed the last verdict to guilty. Today, it wasn’t in my heart’’ said Arroyo-Maultsby, still wearing her “Juror” button as she sat at her kitchen table beneath a painting of the Last Supper.

She said she agreed with defense lawyers’ argument that the men are good friends who had no corrupt intent. In fact, she said, it was the prosecutors themselves who she saw as corrupt.

Tense Deliberations

Deliberations were tense when she returned, she said. But another juror joined her, leaving the margin at 10-2 for conviction on the false claims count. But other panelists, she said, mentioned she’d soon be dismissed. 

"I wanted my vote to count. I felt like they were taking their time because they didn’t want my vote to count,” she said. “Two jurors said, ‘Don’t worry because you’re going on vacation.’"

Arroyo-Maultsby showed Bloomberg a pencil draft of a note apologizing for not being able to finish deliberating. She explained that she had rewritten the message in ink and asked a clerk to give it to the judge on Thursday. “I found it very unfair that after 9 weeks this jury refused to present a verdict that was reached on Wednesday. Prolonging our decision will dismiss my conclusion after 9 long weeks of process allowing an alternate to replace me,” the draft note said.

Arroyo-Maultsby, a daughter of Puerto Rican immigrants, is a payroll clerk at NJ Transit, where she has worked for 22 years. She dropped out of high school in Passaic, New Jersey, when she had her first child at age 17, and she later got a general equivalency diploma. She’s registered as a Democrat.

Menendez, a son of Cuban immigrants, is a leading Hispanic voice in Congress. Jurors heard that Melgen, a native of the Dominican Republic, is his closest friend.

“He’s a very good man to be our senator,’’ she said. “He cares about his people, and he didn’t forget where he came from. He helped a lot of people, not only Dr. Melgen.’’

‘Outside Influence’

Attorney Robert Mintz said he doubts her comments would affect the trial or any possible appeal. “A judge would say, ‘What goes on inside the jury room should remain among jurors, at least until the end of the case, so they can deliberate without outside influence,’’’ Mintz said. “But unless those conversations influence the remaining jurors, it’s not likely to be an appellate issue.’’

Throughout the trial, a handful of alternate jurors sat in the courtroom. On Thursday, Walls appointed one of them to take Arroyo-Maultsby’s place. Jury deliberations are set to restart Monday.

The case is U.S. v. Menendez, 15-cr-155, U.S. District Court, District of New Jersey (Newark).

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