Justice Dept set to charge NJ Senator Menendez with corruption

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-New Jersey) (Reuters / Kevin Lamarque)

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-New Jersey) (Reuters / Kevin Lamarque)


Caribbean basin, Corruption, Court, Crime, Cuba, Election, Immigration, Law, Scandal, Security, Sex, USA

An influential US senator will face federal corruption charges, concluding a two-year investigation into Sen. Robert Menendez (D-New Jersey), which has scrutinized a Florida eye doctor, underage prostitutes and accusations against the Cuban government.

Department of Justice prosecutors accuse Menendez, the senior
senator from New Jersey and the ranking member of the Foreign
Relations Committee, used his powerful position to advance the
business interests of Dr. Salomon Melgen, a close friend and
financial benefactor, in exchange for gifts, several media
outlets reported Friday afternoon. Attorney General Eric Holder
has signed off on the requested charges, according to CNN.

In a statement to the press, Menendez described Melgen as a
friend but denied breaking the law, insisting he would remain in

“Let me be very clear, very clear: I have always conducted
myself appropriately and with accordance with the law,”
said. Every action that I and my
office have taken … has been based on pursuing the best policy
for the people of New Jersey and this entire

“I am not going anywhere.”

The senator has consistently denied wrongdoing since the
investigation became public in 2013.

“As we have said before, we believe all of Senator’s actions
have been appropriate and lawful and the facts will ultimately
confirm that,”
Menendez spokesperson Tricia Enright said in
a statement Friday. “Any actions taken by Senator Menendez or
his office have been to appropriately address public policy
issues and not for any other reason.”

The investigation began in the fall of 2012, when Menendez was
running for reelection. A
scandal erupted
days before the vote, when he was accused of
“inappropriate sexual activities with young prostitutes”
on a 2010 trip to the Dominican Republic. Conservative news site
the Daily Caller broke the story after GOP political operatives
set up several Skype interviews with several women in the
Dominican Republic who claimed the senator had paid them for sex.

According to the anonymous tip that launched the probe, Melgen
provided the underage women, as well as free flights on his
private plane, the Washington Post reported. The women later
recanted their stories about meeting Menendez on the 2010 trip.

The New Jersey lawmaker vehemently denied that he employed any
sex workers in the Dominican, and accused the Cuban government of
hatching a plot to derail his political career; as the son of
Cuban immigrants, he is one of several key Latinos in Congress
aligned against any relaxation of the embargo on the

Despite the women changing their stories, the FBI continued to
investigate Menendez’s relationship with the Florida

The investigation began to focus on whether the senator
intervened on Melgen’s behalf, asking Medicare to change its
reimbursement policies that benefited the eye doctor to the tune
of $8.9 million, money that he has since repaid, according to

Melgen was accused of overbilling the Centers for Medicare
Medicaid Services (CMS) for his reimbursement for the drug
Lucentis, a costly medication used to treat macular degeneration.
During the billing dispute ‒ in 2009 and in 2012 ‒ Menendez urged
the government agency to change its policy, which he said he
considered to be unfair, the New York Times reported.

”The bottom line is, we raised concerns with CMS over policy
and over ambiguities that are difficult for medical providers to
understand and to seek a clarification of that and to make sure,
in doing so, providers would understand how to attain
Menendez told the Associated Press in 2013.

In 2013, Menendez paid Melgen back $58,000 in return for the 2010
plane trips, and called his failure to disclose the flights ‒ as
required by federal ethics laws ‒ an “oversight.” Along
with the flights, the Florida doctor donated heavily to the
senator’s campaign coffers, including $700,000 to a Democratic
super PAC (political action committee) that spent heavily on
Menendez’s 2012 reelection bid.

Prosecutors are also looking into whether the senator illegally
advocated for Melgen in the Dominican Republic, where the
opthamologist had a government contract for port screening
equipment, CNN reported. When the US government was considering
donating similar technology to the Caribbean nation, Menendez
told both the State Department and the Commerce Department that
the Dominican government was trying to get out of a contract with
an unnamed American company that authorities there “[didn’t]
want to live by.”

Melgen’s relationship with the senator isn’t the only one that
might be mentioned in the government’s corruption charges against
Menendez. The FBI also investigated his ties to the Isaias
family. Brothers Roberto and William were banking magnates in
Ecuador when they fled to the US after they were accused of
embezzling tens of millions of dollars from the country’s largest
bank before it collapsed, Politico reported. The New Jersey
lawmaker is accused of illegally helping the brothers gain
permanent residency while fighting their extradition cases,
according to CNN. Menendez also assisted Roberto’s daughter
Estefania with visa problems.

The Isaias family donated $10,000 to Menendez’s 2012 Senate
campaign and more than $100,000 to the Democratic Party. The
senator served as the chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign
Committee ‒ the party’s chief fundraiser for upper chamber
candidates ‒ from 2009 to 2011.

If Menendez is unable to remain in office due to the corruption
charges, it is unclear who might replace him, the Washington Post
reported. New Jersey Democrats are focusing on winning the
governorship when current Gov. Chris Christie (R) leaves office
in 2017, and members of the state’s delegation in the House are
not likely to run for the Senate seat.

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