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. awaiting moderation

    I do not think he is capable of such.

    January 31, 2013 04:51 pm at 4:51 pm |
  2. awaiting moderation

    I do not know of any Democrat for which you could make that kind of case. It is not possible.What the media will not do to sell commercials.There is no proof what so ever that it ever happened or could happen for that matter.

    January 31, 2013 04:54 pm at 4:54 pm |
  3. No

    Will

    Better late than never CNN, this story is 3 months old already....now if Menendez was conservative

    Ever heard of David Vitter?

    January 31, 2013 04:56 pm at 4:56 pm |
  4. critical thinking

    Wouldn't wanted this investigation to occur when voters might want this information to make a more informed decision. He must have gotten the numbers for the prositutues from Obama's Secret Service detail

    January 31, 2013 04:59 pm at 4:59 pm |
  5. Iamrightyouarewrong

    Must be nice 58 grand from his personnel account. If that isn't some kind of admission. Nobody in right mind would pay that 5800 ok 58000. Hiding something.

    January 31, 2013 05:01 pm at 5:01 pm |
  6. Darkseider

    Hmm... CNN late to the game. On top of that this is the same clown that had an unregistered immigrant as an unpaid intern who was arrested and is a registered sex offender. The same clown senator that had the arrest of said intern delayed until two days after the elections to ensure that there were no issues with his campaign or re-election even though his intern was known about for well over a month prior to the elections. Oh and CNN didn't report on that either. CNN the most mistrusted source of misinformation and fabrication anywhere. Disgusting.

    January 31, 2013 05:01 pm at 5:01 pm |
  7. B

    It's pedophile, Bob. As in Mark Foley (R-FL)

    January 31, 2013 05:02 pm at 5:02 pm |
  8. jeff

    Elected officials involved in prostitution put national defense at risk. If this needs to be explained to you, you probably should not be voting.

    January 31, 2013 05:03 pm at 5:03 pm |
  9. Erik

    Under U.S. law, it is illegal for any American citizen to have “commercial sex” with anyone who is under 18.

    If true, he commited a felony. Any of you defending him would go to jail if caught doing the same. And since hre is known in congress for pushing bills to fight sex trafficing-particularly in South America-he would be the first person to shame you. Yet you defend him.

    January 31, 2013 05:04 pm at 5:04 pm |
  10. SCBAMA

    Well sure he denies it.

    January 31, 2013 05:06 pm at 5:06 pm |
  11. Cory Booker

    Cory Booker in the making

    January 31, 2013 05:07 pm at 5:07 pm |
  12. jeff, alabama

    all these leeches, democratic and republican, should get ONE term. PERIOD !!!

    January 31, 2013 05:09 pm at 5:09 pm |
  13. JohnRJohnson

    If we jailed every politician who had ever consorted with prostitutes, the jails would be over-flowing and the capitol would be vacant.

    January 31, 2013 05:10 pm at 5:10 pm |
  14. n222s

    Legal or illegal. Underage or of age. These things certainly do matter. Illegal and/or underage – that matters. Legal and of age – it matters but not for moral grounds.

    Why does the latter scenario matter? You cannot be sure that the prostitutes are working willingly or are not being exploited. Read up a litle on prostitution, particularly in third world countries. Not every woman is empowered and simply trying to make a living. Stop living in the world of Hollywood's "hooker with the heart of gold" and "Pretty Woman". It is a dirty, nasty business that uses up women and discards them in the trash.

    He is in a position of power and could be blackmailed. Yes, I am not naive, I know they "all" do it.

    But you know why they all do it? Because we let them. If you progressives (conservatives when the shoe is on the other foot) would hold our elected officials to higher standards, perhaps they might fear their jobs and try to do right by us.

    All politics aside. Is it that much of a stretch to think politicians like Vitters or Menendez or Weiner might, you know, take a little cash for favors? Nawww. They'd do sexual things but NEVER, EVER, perform acts of corruption. You realize how idiotic it would be to think that way?

    January 31, 2013 05:12 pm at 5:12 pm |
  15. Bill

    At least when Democratic men get caught in a sex scandal, it's with women, unlike the closeted homosexual party known as the GOP.

    January 31, 2013 05:17 pm at 5:17 pm |
  16. tullymd

    Most of the "prostitutes" of which I am aware are congressmen and senators...prostituting their values for campaign contributions and other favors.

    January 31, 2013 05:19 pm at 5:19 pm |
  17. ObservantHistorian

    No, Bob, not all Democrats are pedophiles, any more than all Republicans are closet homosexuals, and I have no idea on what factual basis you'd say, "seems like it."

    January 31, 2013 05:22 pm at 5:22 pm |
  18. n222s

    Should Vitters be in office? No. Of course not. Should Menendez? No. Of course not.

    Look, the biggest sin against mankind is NOT hypocrisy. There have been many evil acts committed by people who told you precisely the evil they were going to do. Does that somehow make it better?

    Are your standards so low that if a man uses women in the way that men do when engaging with prostitutes, that it doesn't matter to you? Ask the women in your life whether they think such actions are appropriate. Most of them will say no.

    Are you so cynical as to believe prostitution doesn't degrade women? Legal, illegal, moral, immoral. Good luck with a society that values its men and women so little that payment for intimacy is of no consequence. Notice I haven't mentioned the "G" word. Even if you don't believe in a higher power, you can't believe that paying women is no more consequential than shaking hands.

    January 31, 2013 05:23 pm at 5:23 pm |
  19. Bob

    A more accurate headline "GOP Senators Deny Having Souls"

    January 31, 2013 05:33 pm at 5:33 pm |
  20. n222s

    I am NOT arguing for an antiquated moral code. A – prostitution degrades and abuses many women. You cannot be sure that every woman will turn out to be the sweet Julia Roberts. Get a clue, read a book. B – Engaging in prostitution (like Vitters, too) is an act for personal gain, regardless of the ramifications. Kind of a form of corruption. Is it that farfetched to believe they would never sell their votes? C – If our elected officials feared their actions would cost them their jobs, do you think they would be more honest or less honest?

    Many of you who excuse his behavior; in effect you are saying that because he has a (D) next to his name he can pretty much do whatever he wants. Do you think such a lack of fear could ever be used by politicians to REALLY harm us? Nawwwww, that would never happen. Oh...and the same goes for those with (R)'s next to their names.

    January 31, 2013 05:36 pm at 5:36 pm |
  21. lB Colorado

    Deny deny deny and it will go away and won't hurt our party. You sick S.O.B. you make the laws so you should be punished more severely than your run of the mill "johns". Resign, you have no place and anyone that has done what this man has done should be FIRED without pay.

    January 31, 2013 05:38 pm at 5:38 pm |
  22. McBob79

    Doesn't look good for Bob. He will likely be forced to resign. The evidence is too damning.

    January 31, 2013 05:40 pm at 5:40 pm |
  23. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    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?
    -------------------------------------------------
    Please, explain it to ALL of us...

    January 31, 2013 05:44 pm at 5:44 pm |
  24. Bill

    Followed by "Bob deny's having a brain"

    January 31, 2013 05:45 pm at 5:45 pm |
  25. Kathleen

    it depends on your definition of "engaged" and "services"......:)

    January 31, 2013 05:57 pm at 5:57 pm |
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