In 2010, then-Florida Gov. Charlie Crist was an uninvited house guest of Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen.
That’s according to Melgen’s wife, Flor Melgen, who told the unusual story about how Crist showed up to her house unannounced during her Tuesday testimony in the corruption trial of Melgen and Sen. Robert Menendez. Crist was running as an independent for the U.S. Senate at the time.
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“He was looking for my husband. He knew that my husband was Bob’s [Menendez] friend, and he was wondering if he might be with him,” Flor Melgen testified. “I didn’t know he was going to spend the night at my home and I wasn’t prepared.”
The Crist visit happened on the weekend of October 9, 2010. On that same weekend, prosecutors charge, Melgen bribed Menendez by paying for his commercial flight from New Jersey to Florida, and then flying him back on a chartered private jet.
With the jury out of the room, defense attorneys said the purpose of the testimony was to show that the purpose of the trip was political and that it should have been reimbursed by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which Menendez chaired at the time, and not Menendez himself.
Prosecutors charge that Melgen supplied the Democratic senator with private jet flights, hotel stays, lavish vacations and hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions in exchange for official favors.
But even though Menendez was in Florida at same time as Crist, he was not at the Melgen’s house with Crist. In fact, Crist didn’t even see Melgen until later that night. Instead, he dined with Flor Melgen, her daughter and her son-in-law, who she had pick up food from The Capital Grille.
“I had to order food because there was no food prepared at my house,” Flor Melgen said. She said Salomon Melgen got home after they ate.
The next day, Crist wrote the Melgens a $100 check to cover his visit.
“I was very surprised when he gave me the check,” Flor Melgen said. “I asked him why, and he told me it was because of the dinner and because he spent the night at my house.”
Although Crist was running as an independent, the Democratic candidate for Florida Senate, Kendrick Meek, withdrew from the race just before he showed up at the Melgens’ door. Republican Marco Rubio easily won the election later that year. Four years later, Crist ran unsuccessfully for governor as a Democrat.
Prosecutor Monique Abrishami drew an amused rebuke from Judge William Walls’ after she cross-examined Flor Melgen.
“This is a check from Charlie Crist to your husband?” Abrishami said.
“Yes,” Flor Melgen said.
“So at least this politician knows how to pay you back for things?” Abrishami said.
Defense attorneys immediately objected, leading Walls to instruct the jury to disregard Abrishami’s last question.
“What lawyers from time to time [do] … is engage in the practice of a ‘throwaway question.’ A throwaway question is one that the questioner knows obviously is objectionable and he or she wants to make a point, and he or she does it by this throw away question,” Walls said. “You’ve just had evidence of a throwaway question. And I give [Abrishami] credit for being such a young practioner of the art.”