January 30th, 2013
09:26 PM ET
1 year 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. CryBabies

    Sounds like a stand up guy! Be proud New Jersey....why demand morality and decency from your representative? After all this is the way of the modern world even though its been going on for centuries. Expect more, people, whether Dem or Rep.

    January 31, 2013 03:22 pm at 3:22 pm |
  2. Wake up People!

    I have to agree with Fair is Fair, some guys just can't keep it in their pants. However I know some women that suffer from the very same affliction. Can't keep their legs closed.

    January 31, 2013 03:37 pm at 3:37 pm |
  3. LIP

    You all know that if this was a Republican, the media and the Democrats would be all over it like flies on you know what.

    January 31, 2013 03:41 pm at 3:41 pm |
  4. John Krats

    Keep sucking on that trailer hitch. You might be able to spit out a nickle.

    January 31, 2013 03:47 pm at 3:47 pm |
  5. Nathan

    Menendez is not married and prostitution is legal in the Dominicam Republic. I don't see the problem here. I do however think that had this not come up he would have never paid for those plane rides.

    January 31, 2013 03:48 pm at 3:48 pm |
  6. Hogan's Goat

    " I hope they throw the book at him for child molestation" whether or not he's guilty, right? Let's see the proof first.

    January 31, 2013 03:49 pm at 3:49 pm |
  7. Hogan's Goat

    Where is the god danged Report Abuse button today?

    January 31, 2013 03:50 pm at 3:50 pm |
  8. Will

    Better late than never CNN, this story is 3 months old already....now if Menendez was conservative.....you know where I'm going with this. It's a sad state that that anyone who doesn't watch Fox News only receives 2/3 of the news out there, with 1/3 suppressed becuase it may make Democrats or Obama look bad (for example, this story...). Ironic that Jay Leno's monologue Tuesday night had more information that any MSM "news" organiazation.

    January 31, 2013 03:50 pm at 3:50 pm |
  9. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    California Gary

    If he paid for everything out his own pocket, then why would anyone care? What he did harms nobody......
    -------------------------------------------------
    California Gary this is my thinking as well, however they are saying that the women were minors... who knows.
    I wanted to say thank you to you for your supportive comment on my behalf when you responded to Independent
    a couple of days back. You're a gentleman my friend.

    January 31, 2013 03:52 pm at 3:52 pm |
  10. Argus

    "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."

    Not nearly the size of the (cough) "oversight" evidenced by the lack of attention in major media.

    January 31, 2013 03:54 pm at 3:54 pm |
  11. Hindsight 20/20

    While this is questionable if true, at least he didn't take tax payer money to fly to Argentina and meet his mistress. All the while lying to his staff of his whereabout. Now that same GOP governor wants to run for public office again. Oh Sanford!

    January 31, 2013 03:58 pm at 3:58 pm |
  12. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    I do however think that had this not come up he would have never paid for those plane rides.
    -------------------------------------------------
    If I understood correctly according to his lawyer he didn't have to pay for those plane rides because he's old friends with the owner of the plane.

    January 31, 2013 04:00 pm at 4:00 pm |
  13. FOX NEWS: The dung beetle of journalism.

    Define "underage prostitute" in a country where prostitution is legal?

    January 31, 2013 04:01 pm at 4:01 pm |
  14. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    However I know some women that suffer from the very same affliction. Can't keep their legs closed.
    -------------------------------------------------
    Wake up you're funny!!

    January 31, 2013 04:03 pm at 4:03 pm |
  15. California Gary

    @ Dominican mama 4 Obama.......if they were minors, and he knew they were minors, then that would change my take on it. If everyone was consenting adults........then it's none of our business.

    And not that you can't defend yourself (you have done that quite well on occasion).......but I thought "independent" needed a bit of a scolding the other day, so I gave it to him. Happy to do so on your behalf.

    January 31, 2013 04:06 pm at 4:06 pm |
  16. confused

    I would have thought the age of consent varied. In VA, it is 16, and the UCMJ, used to read 12 involving carnal knowledge, but was up'd to 16 last I knew. Most states are 18, but some are less then that. Even that is waived with parental consent.

    January 31, 2013 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  17. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    " I hope they throw the book at him for child molestation"
    -------------------------------------------------
    Yeah, okay. Put that in spanish and forward it to the Dominican consulate.

    January 31, 2013 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  18. Rudy NYC

    Hogan's Goat wrote:

    " I hope they throw the book at him for child molestation" whether or not he's guilty, right? Let's see the proof first.
    -------------–
    ALERT: I see the right wing is trying work the words "under age" into the discussion. ALERT:

    January 31, 2013 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  19. bob

    Why am I not surprized this phedophile is denying it. Another democrat child abuser.

    January 31, 2013 04:14 pm at 4:14 pm |
  20. Lynda/Minnesota

    Wake up People!

    I have to agree with Fair is Fair, some guys just can't keep it in their pants. However I know some women that suffer from the very same affliction. Can't keep their legs closed.
    ----------------

    LOL. You'd think GOPers wouldn't question the "free" enterprise wheeling and dealing aspect. The lady(s) are selling what the men want to buy. If buying and selling isn't capital enterprise at its best, you have to wonder what is.

    January 31, 2013 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  21. California Gary

    No double standard independent.......if any GOP senators want to go to a place where prostitution is legal, and they pay their own way.......I have no problem with it. It's those GOP senators that constantly preach family values and consistently vote against anything favorable to the gay community, who then turn out to be gay themselves and engaging in inappropriate behavior in a public place (like maybe an airport?) that I take exception to. Right now you have a GOP senator from Louisianna that engaged in consorting with prostitutes in this country, where it is not legal, and he is still sitting in the U.S. Senate. Explain that one to me?

    January 31, 2013 04:16 pm at 4:16 pm |
  22. Bob

    What? CNN is reporting on something bad about a democrat? This is a first.

    January 31, 2013 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
  23. Durundal

    how about we complain about important things -you know like attempted gerrymandering and voter suppression instead of who stuck what with what

    January 31, 2013 04:32 pm at 4:32 pm |
  24. bob

    Are all democrats phedophiles? It sure seems like it.

    January 31, 2013 04:34 pm at 4:34 pm |
  25. bobf

    Maybe someone else "hired" them?

    January 31, 2013 04:49 pm at 4:49 pm |
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