January 30th, 2013
09:26 PM ET
2 years ago

Sen. Robert Menendez denies improper travel and hiring prostitutes

Washington (CNN) - Sen. Robert Menendez's office issued a statement Wednesday saying he had traveled several times on a plane belonging to a Florida eye doctor who had given political donations to Menendez but that all the trips were "paid for and reported appropriately." The office also denied allegations the New Jersey Democrat had engaged the services of prostitutes.

The statement was issued after FBI agents searched the West Palm Beach office of the ophthalmologist, Dr. Salomon Melgen. Investigators were seen carrying out boxes during the search, which began Tuesday night and continued into Wednesday. An FBI spokesman in Florida confirmed there was "law enforcement activity" at the location where the search occurred but did not mention Melgen or anyone else and did not explain what agents were investigating.

In 2011, the Internal Revenue Service hit Melgen with an $11 million tax lien. Melgen has not returned repeated calls from CNN.

The statement from Menendez's office described Melgen as a friend and political supporter and said the senator had traveled on Melgen's plane three times. A spokesperson told CNN one of the trips involved official travel for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee while the other two were personal trips. The spokeperson said the senator is not required to publicly disclose information concerning personal travel.

In April the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, known as CREW, started receiving e-mails from someone alleging Menendez had made several trips to the Dominican Republic and partied with prostitutes. CREW was unable to verify the claims and forwarded the information to the FBI and the criminal division at the Justice Department.

Shortly before the November election, a conservative website, The Daily Caller, ran stories saying Menendez had flown to the Dominican Republic on Melgen's plane and engaged with prostitutes. Prostitution is legal in the Caribbean nation.

"Any allegations of engaging with prostitutes are manufactured by a politically motivated right-wing blog and are false," Menendez's office said in its Wednesday statement.

Meanwhile, New Jersey state Sen. Sam Thompson, a Republican, sent a complaint to the Senate Ethics Committee in November calling for an investigation, saying Menendez may have violated Senate ethics by "repeatedly flying on a private jet to the Dominican Republic and other locations ... and soliciting prostitutes." Thompson said he did not hear back from the Ethics Committee.

Menendez's spokeswoman Patricia Enright confirmed to CNN the senator made a payment of $58,500 on January 4 to Melgen’s company for the full operating costs of the two flights Menendez took in August and September 2010 to the Dominican Republic.

Menendez made the payment following an exhaustive review of his travel conducted by his chief of staff Danny O'Brien in the wake of Thompson’s complaint.

Enright said it was an "oversight" on the part of the senator not to have paid for the flights at the time he took them. She could not explain why the veteran lawmaker didn't know to fully disclose the flights at the time.

Enright said the New Jersey GOP ethics complaint alleged four flights but Menendez's initial review found that he was not on two of the flights mentioned in the complaint and a third flight was for official DSCC business. Since they couldn't account for the one flight, his office decided to conduct the review which turned up one other flight.

Menendez's campaign counsel advised that because the senator and doctor are old friends, he could have claimed a friendship exemption. But Menendez decided he would prefer to pay for everything and wrote the $58,500 check from his personal funds.

Both the Senate Ethics Committee and the FBI said they could not comment and that their policies are to never confirm whether they are conducting investigations.

Menendez, who is divorced, is in line to become the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The senator has not been contacted by the ethics committee but assumes it is reviewing the matter. He has no plans to resign over the issue, Enright said.

Federal Election Commission records show Melgen has made at least $193,000 in election contributions since 1998, including more than $14,000 to Menendez's Senate campaigns. Records show the doctor also donated $5,000 to Menendez's political action committee.

-CNN's Ted Barrett, Adriana Hauser, Joe Johns, and Robert Yoon contributed to this report


Filed under: Bob Menendez • FBI • New Jersey
soundoff (221 Responses)
  1. former Texas republican

    But unlike Gen. Patreaus, members of Congress are given "carte blanche" immunity when it comes to there little peccadillos. Nothings going to happen to our elected monarchs. After all, isn't that the expected behavior in which we've all become accustomed?

    January 31, 2013 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  2. Fair is Fair

    What is it with you men? Why are you so willing to risk throwing everything away for a piece of strange? I will never understand it. Never.

    January 31, 2013 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  3. us_1776

    Another rightwing smear campaign against one of the good legislators.

    .

    January 31, 2013 11:44 am at 11:44 am |
  4. pk

    Sounds like someone is out to get him....politics is a dirty game.

    January 31, 2013 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  5. Rudy NYC

    Rob wrote:

    I find it intersted that he forgot to pay for the private jet. Funny how he remembers to pay AFTER he got caught. He had no intention of paying until it became public that he may have broken the law.
    -----------------–
    Hey, there. Have you ever seen Donald Trump's personal jet? I think it's a 707, "TRUMP" painted on the sides of it. I think it is odd that the jet has not been since Romney wrapped up the primaries. Did you notice how close Trump and Romney were during the campaign? Did you notice the Romney campaign jet? It was the same make and model jet as Donald Trump's! I'm betting that the next time we see Trump's jet, that it is going to have a new paint job. Yes, I'm suggesting that Romney was flying around in Trump's jet, but it had a "Romney" paint job on it.

    January 31, 2013 11:50 am at 11:50 am |
  6. Rudy NYC

    Fair is Fair wrote:

    What is it with you men? Why are you so willing to risk throwing everything away for a piece of strange? I will never understand it. Never.
    -------------–
    It takes two to tango, my dear. "Hotcha hotcha, CHA, CHA"

    January 31, 2013 11:53 am at 11:53 am |
  7. Bill

    It is interesting that CNN is not including the part that the alleged prostitutes were underage. A point agencies from ABC to the NY Times are reporting.

    January 31, 2013 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  8. Jack

    If Menedez used his own money for whatever–who cares?

    January 31, 2013 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  9. Sly

    What is wrong with using prostitutes in the Caribbean?

    It's legal.
    It's fun.

    All power to this guy. Boy am I sick of people throwing their opinions about morality around. Not everyone thinks one should only have sex after being married and only to have kids. In fact, those who do come off as a bit wierd ... but I can still accept their opinion.

    January 31, 2013 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  10. Ronnie Jackson

    Oh wow this stuff over again when it ever comes down too sex I say who cares it's none of our business just between him and his spouse.

    January 31, 2013 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  11. Bill

    Rudy NYC wrote
    The American people are tired of the right wing morality witch hunts. Do it to yourselves and leave others out of it. He's not trying to live up to the right wing's extreme standards of living.

    ------–
    Assuming the allegations are true, not engaging in sex with underage prostitutes and not accepting $$$ from someone who owes the government $11M in taxes constitute a right wing extreme standard of living to you?

    January 31, 2013 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  12. jo jo

    He is trying to improve the unemployment rate. Can't let these girls go unpaid. And, at least they were female this time.

    January 31, 2013 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  13. Sly

    Prostitution is legal, and it's fun.

    All power to him. What is it with these 'moral majority' folks? Live and let live.

    January 31, 2013 12:04 pm at 12:04 pm |
  14. Luke

    He wrote that check pretty quickly. Telling. If prostitution is legal there and that is his thing he should just come out and say it. Love to hear the specifics about all the business he was chasing in Dominican Republic.

    January 31, 2013 12:05 pm at 12:05 pm |
  15. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    Rudy NYC

    So what if he did go another country and boogied on down with some ladies of the night. He didn't break any laws, and he apparently did it on his own time.
    -------------------------------------------------
    I agree 1000%.
    Why are we so puritanical in this country Rudy? He's a divorced man, free to come and go in his private life. As long as he is anot using government money to get his groove on I couldn't care less.

    January 31, 2013 12:17 pm at 12:17 pm |
  16. Fair is Fair

    Rudy NYC

    Fair is Fair wrote:

    What is it with you men? Why are you so willing to risk throwing everything away for a piece of strange? I will never understand it. Never.
    -----–
    It takes two to tango, my dear. "Hotcha hotcha, CHA, CHA"
    -------–
    I wouldn't call paying a prostitute "the tango"... more like the "mattress mambo". But hey, if it floats your boat, Rudy.

    January 31, 2013 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  17. Sara Lancaster

    He did this to himself...you can't blame everything on the Republican party.

    January 31, 2013 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  18. JREV

    Prostitution is sad...but it should also be LEGAL, taxed and regulated...nationally. Unless the prostitute was underage, I don't see any problem at all here, since it was legal in Dominican Republic. It's like if he smoked a joint in Amsterdam, except I'd have a better opinion of him in the latter case.

    January 31, 2013 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  19. Rudy NYC

    Bill asked:

    Assuming the allegations are true, not engaging in sex with underage prostitutes and not accepting $$$ from someone who owes the government $11M in taxes constitute a right wing extreme standard of living to you?
    -------------------------
    Good grief. Underage prostitutes? It's legal in the Dominican Republic. What's really wrong with campaign donations from someone who's having tax battles with the IRS? Mitt Romney accepted campaign donations from Trump, who's had more than his share of bankruptcies and IRS tax battles.

    Yes, you're espousing the extreme right wing standard of living. Why do you think the man is a liberal Democrat in the first place? One critical difference between conservatives and liberals is how they look at others. A conservative will look at some one or some group and think, "they should/could join up with us". A liberal would think, "we should/could join up with them." Can you hear the difference?

    January 31, 2013 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  20. Olaf Big

    Explain it to me like I was a two-year old: what's wrong with hiring prostitutes if you pay for their services out of your own pocket?

    January 31, 2013 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  21. Olaf Big

    Let me rephrase the question. Explain it to me like I was a two-year old: what's wrong with hiring a professional if you pay for her services out of your own pocket?

    January 31, 2013 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  22. heliocracy

    Haha a politician hiring a prostitute? Preposterous!

    January 31, 2013 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
  23. Rudy NYC

    Fair is Fair wrote:

    I wouldn't call paying a prostitute "the tango"... more like the "mattress mambo". But hey, if it floats your boat, Rudy.
    ---------------–
    I love the way you ignore the point, especially after it's been scored. Deflect or project. It's what you do worse. "It takes two to tango" is a figure of speech, Fair. I hope that you've heard it before.

    You only want to blame the men. The women are just as much at fault as the men. In the case of prostitutes, they may be even more guilty of doing it with strangers because that's what they do for a living.

    January 31, 2013 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
  24. Namjoele

    Anthony Weiner denied denied denied too

    January 31, 2013 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
  25. NothingAtAll

    Politicians are inherently dishonest. No problem, get caught, pay the bill and all is forgotten.

    January 31, 2013 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
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