Witness: Sen. Menendez's friend paid for $8K private flight

A wealthy donor on trial for bribery with U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez spent more than $8,000 to fly Menendez back to Washington from Florida on a private jet with only the senator as its passenger, a witness testified Wednesday.

Prosecutors are seeking to show the donor, Florida ophthalmologist Salomon Melgen, bribed Menendez with numerous free flights to and from Florida and the Dominican Republic on his private jet over several years so the New Jersey Democrat would lobby on behalf of Melgen’s business interests.

The flight in October 2010 was taken at a time when Melgen’s plane was unavailable, Jeffrey Wardenaar testified. Wardenaar’s company arranged charter jet flights at the time.

According to Wardenaar, the flight cost $2,600 per hour, which included “deadhead” flights — repositioning flights with no passengers — from Sarasota, Florida, to West Palm Beach, Florida, to pick up Menendez and from Washington to Islip, New York, after dropping him off.

Robert Nylund, a former pilot on Melgen’s private jets, testified Wednesday that he flew Menendez on 16 legs between 2008 and 2010, The Record reported.

Prosecutors showed an email Nylund sent his co-pilot in 2010 suggesting they buy Evian bottled water and Menendez’s favorite fruit juices “if we fly the senator again.”

Nylund said on cross-examination that stocking a private plane was “common practice” for pilots. He said he wasn’t aware of any time alcohol had been ordered…

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