January 30th, 2013
09:26 PM ET
10 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.

[twitter-follow screen_name='politicalticker']

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. Jerry

    Another Obama "Bender Forward" (Sen. Robert Menendez) hits the dirt. Is this a great party for América and its future or what?!

    January 31, 2013 06:28 am at 6:28 am |
  2. Marie MD

    A friend with a plane means no tax payers money and the guy is divorced and althought I don't approve of prostitutes in general . . . . . at least he is NOT gay or trolling for men in airport bathrooms or taking boy toys to Italy to "help with his luggage".

    January 31, 2013 06:34 am at 6:34 am |
  3. miguel

    watch the left rush to declare this another right wing hit job. The man is in hiding consulting his lawyers on how to effectively lie.

    January 31, 2013 06:49 am at 6:49 am |
  4. Gabbo

    Typical "do as I say not as I do" liberal. What a scum bag. I hope you CNN drones are proud of him !

    January 31, 2013 06:51 am at 6:51 am |
  5. TommytheT

    Mr Menendez is certainly some one to be wary of. His tactics and history would suggest he is all about himself and not necessarily serving the country. Seems like this story will not go away and perhaps his denial back in November will ring hollow and just another lie.

    January 31, 2013 06:53 am at 6:53 am |
  6. Jerry

    If cnn is reporting this on a liberal he is guilty and a fool

    January 31, 2013 07:04 am at 7:04 am |
  7. chicadow

    11 million dollar tax lien and a 58k "oversight". Yeesh. I'm not so sure he's ready for foreign relations (unless you count his overseas prostitute endeavors as experience.

    January 31, 2013 07:06 am at 7:06 am |
  8. T

    ...You KNOW what this really means, dont you?............This means a gop was found with pros and the news is about to break.

    January 31, 2013 07:14 am at 7:14 am |
  9. Gabbo

    Mendez is sooo liberal – I'm sure you democrats are proud of what he is doing.

    January 31, 2013 07:26 am at 7:26 am |
  10. Marckenson

    everyone needs some privacy

    January 31, 2013 07:34 am at 7:34 am |
  11. Erik

    Why no mention of the fact that it is still illegal to hire prostitues under US law even in countries where it is legal? Why no mention that the two women who say they were the prostitutes were minors at the time?

    January 31, 2013 07:46 am at 7:46 am |
  12. Bystander

    Maybe he and his security detail were given the group rate.

    January 31, 2013 07:55 am at 7:55 am |
  13. Dan

    If true, arrest him and be done with.

    January 31, 2013 08:10 am at 8:10 am |
  14. Boisepoet

    Who does he think he is? A Republican?

    January 31, 2013 08:12 am at 8:12 am |
  15. david

    i hope he resigns. he is a terrible obstacle to engaging with cuba . on this issue he's a neocon who's still living in the 60's. anyway he's been in office too long.

    January 31, 2013 08:15 am at 8:15 am |
  16. jkane sfl the gop national disgrace party will be swept out like the trash they are in2014 ?

    Sounds like gop dirty tricks to me with the aim to grab a senate seat ,why would anyone believe any gop stooge that stoppage to voter registration rigging and fraud to win elections. The gop has 0 credibility!!!!

    January 31, 2013 08:15 am at 8:15 am |
  17. s

    I think it is disgraceful behavior and of course he denies it as all politicians seem to do. Look at Clinton and Nixon if you need examples!

    January 31, 2013 08:18 am at 8:18 am |
  18. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    Menendez, who is divorced, is in line to become the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
    Seems to me that he was intent on garnering 'foreign relations' experience in anticipation of his chairmanship.
    Such dedication...!
    Lawd Gawd!

    January 31, 2013 08:19 am at 8:19 am |
  19. Al-NY,NY

    Well let's see how things play out but if the hooker thing is true, he should resign. Oh the outrage by the tightie righties!!!! And to think they will re-elect Mr "Argentine Soul Mate" Sanford but scream bloody murder about this

    January 31, 2013 08:19 am at 8:19 am |
  20. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    But is he a productive and happy camper? That's the question!

    January 31, 2013 08:20 am at 8:20 am |
  21. Paul Cooper

    "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."

    "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."

    Another coverup is under way. Menendez only paid for the flights when he was called out on them. This is the same game Tim Geithner played to get past his tax cheating and theft from his employer so he could become Secretary of the Treasury. These people never follow the laws until they are backed into a corner because they believe the laws do no apply to them.

    January 31, 2013 08:28 am at 8:28 am |
  22. William

    He traveled on the donors plane and bought underage hookers. The knowledge of this was kept quiet until after the election. Who made that decision and why?

    January 31, 2013 08:34 am at 8:34 am |
  23. NClaw441

    Menendez denies WHAT prostitute and travel allegations? I don't think CNN or any mainline media have covered the story until he made the denials. When did CNN first know of these allegations? Why has this not been reported before now?

    January 31, 2013 08:40 am at 8:40 am |
  24. OldSwaby

    Menendez and Corzine, examples of sleazeball Senators from NJ.......

    January 31, 2013 08:42 am at 8:42 am |
  25. amf140

    If he was in the Navy, he would immediately be relieved. Accountability is not a trait of our politicians. If he was one of us, he would be arrested. We have to quit enabling Washington elites to be above the law. They are not better than us – they just think they are.

    January 31, 2013 08:47 am at 8:47 am |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9