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.

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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. Ratherbboating

    Interesting that people are blaming Republicans for a Democrat's wrong doings. You need to ask yourself, are you so full of hate that you can not see?

    January 31, 2013 10:18 am at 10:18 am |
  2. Jean

    Somehow I believe that if this were a story about a republican it would not be buried as a Ticker item, it would be a headline screaming the words "accused of" in place of the word "denies". Oh and it woudl have made the mainstream news headlines back in November when it first came ot light.

    January 31, 2013 10:18 am at 10:18 am |
  3. enuff

    Republican Sam Thompson complains about it initially... Was he there? How does he know exactly what happened? It was the DOCTOR that has the tax lien. Read the story before commenting. Sounds like one representative personally does not like the other and is hoping to smear his name a little. Perhaps Sen. Thompson would concentrate on himself and doing his own job correctly. He probably has a few skeletons himself.

    January 31, 2013 10:19 am at 10:19 am |
  4. Saboth

    Hey, it's Republicans claiming to be the party of "morals and values" (despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary). Dems run on cleaning up Republican messes, promoting science and math, ending wars and helping those in poverty. Not many run on nonsense like religion and "family values". I say...legalize drugs and prostitution and have a field day, Dems!

    January 31, 2013 10:26 am at 10:26 am |
  5. critical thinking

    Here is what will come out. He didn't know they were prostitues, his friend paid them and he just thought they were friendly. What a joke he is, your 15 mins are over, time to resign..lol

    January 31, 2013 10:27 am at 10:27 am |
  6. enuff

    What does Obama have to do with this? Why do people act like it is his fault for what choices an individual makes?

    January 31, 2013 10:28 am at 10:28 am |
  7. jonathan

    I really don't understand it. If a guy spends most of his time at the gym working towards a great body, does anybody get mad at him if he uses his looks to have a lot of casual sex with different women? Guys who invest time in their careers to become successful have another asset that they can use to get what they want, money. Why is it such a big deal if both parties are willing?

    But as far as illegal campaign contributions, kickbacks, bribes etc., I say fry him. I expect my elected representatives to be fair, honest, and trustworthy when it comes to representing us, but I really don't care if they are a prude and some beacon of american christian morality.

    January 31, 2013 10:28 am at 10:28 am |
  8. humberto

    The Senator is also has omission of duty to deceive and obstruct justice concerning aiding and abeiting kidnapping charges against him with the FBI who are trying to cover up that too.

    January 31, 2013 10:30 am at 10:30 am |
  9. n222s

    You gotta understand. The chicks dig Bob. He is a handsome dude with women falling all over him! Can he help it that young women are drawn to him?

    And if you'll recall Anthony Weiner was completely innocent. His stunning body was photoshopped and it was all a conspiracy.

    Quite possibly, these are the most attractive men in politics.

    Hey...has anyone seen my meds?

    January 31, 2013 10:49 am at 10:49 am |
  10. Dan

    It worked for David Vitters. (R) Did he ask for the diaper treatment too?

    January 31, 2013 10:52 am at 10:52 am |
  11. fernace

    I don't care what party a politician is affiliated with; alleged misconduct must be investigated! No1 is above the law, no matter how much power or connections! 1 thing that sticks out in this article is the sheer amount of money shelled out for 2 private airplane trips! $58,000!! That's practically the annual income of a middleclass family! And this man just cut a check like he was paying the paperboy! That, in a nutshell, is the problem of trying to get politicians to understand the plight of the common person! Democrat or Republican, they are too removed from the life of the average American! That's how the People get lost in spread sheets, averages, statistics & policies & why "brinkmanship" seems to be more important than solving problems!!

    January 31, 2013 10:53 am at 10:53 am |
  12. SuperD

    Don't forget that just within the past 2 weeks, he was interviewed by Martha Raddatz and George Stephanolpolus (spelling) of ABC and they didn't even ask him about these alegations!

    If that does not prove the media is in the tank for Democrats, then you're blind. How Pathetic and shameless the media has become. This is another reason to watch Fox, they are an equal opportunity in reporting scandals.

    January 31, 2013 10:59 am at 10:59 am |
  13. Larry L


    Interesting that people are blaming Republicans for a Democrat's wrong doings. You need to ask yourself, are you so full of hate that you can not see?
    ==================================================================================================== Everybody is always expecting another Republican witch hunt on every issue. The GOP spent 91 million investigating Bill's BJ. They are "outraged" every day about something of possible political leverage. When something real happens everybody is so jaded they just assume it's another "swift boat" attack by a Republican Party determined to obstruct progress and discredit anybody possible. It's simply hard to tell the difference between honest investigations and political posturing. They've cried wolf too many times.

    Regarding "hate" just look at the record. Sen Graham called the Secretary of State a "murderer" this week. A Republican called the President a "liar" during the State of the Union Address. The First Lady gets booed (two NASCAR events) by red state crowds when she's trying to promote a charity for Wounded Warriors. Remember the signs and slogans at Tea Party rallies? Ever watch Rush, Sean, or Glen? Hate?

    January 31, 2013 11:00 am at 11:00 am |
  14. n222s

    First of all, if the stories are true and the women were underage, he should resign. End of story. Legalities aside. Why? You really think something else in the present or past couldn't be used against him in his position? And what about his judgement? If the underage is proven, he'll swear he didn't know. I'm sorry, this calls his judgement into question. Maybe they looked 18 but a man of his position shouldn't be taking that kind of chance. There are plenty of women that are above 21 that don't require payment and would be glad to "meet" a powerful senator.

    And the legality of the prostitution in the DR is not a guarantee that the women are free of exploitation or forced servitude. You may believe prostitution should be legal and that is not the point of my argument. I'm simply saying that because there is no sure expectaton that the status of the women is willingly accepted by them, you should not be engaging in that activity.

    I believe this is analogous; it is one thing to believe certain drugs to be legal. That does not justify purchasing them from a dealer who may, or may not, have hurt people whilst in the process of procuring them for sale.

    January 31, 2013 11:17 am at 11:17 am |
  15. Brian in DC

    I thought sleeping with underage DR prostitutes was a job requirement of the Dems?

    January 31, 2013 11:21 am at 11:21 am |
  16. Unknown

    At least the Democrats don't go on preaching "moral & family values," when they mess around. I remember David Vitter was caught with prostitutes and it had no effect on his political career.

    January 31, 2013 11:22 am at 11:22 am |
  17. Hogan's Goat

    Stuff like this isn't really left or right, just wrong. But as several people have commented, he's single and he wasn't tap-dancing in a men's room stall. It isn't the worst thing I've heard, but it does remind you that we prefer happily-married people for these jobs for a reason.

    January 31, 2013 11:24 am at 11:24 am |
  18. superlogi

    Almost $60,000 in airfare from Miami or Palm Springs to anywhere in the Dominican Republic seem like it would be more than "several" trips. And, I wonder what took him so long in paying the money back?

    January 31, 2013 11:27 am at 11:27 am |
  19. Rudy NYC

    fernace wrote:

    I don't care what party a politician is affiliated with; alleged misconduct must be investigated! No1 is above the law, no matter how much power or connections!
    What did he do that meets your standard of "misconduct"? So what if he did go to the D.R. and mingle with the locals. He didn't break any laws. He did it on his own time.

    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.

    January 31, 2013 11:27 am at 11:27 am |
  20. n222s

    Larry L,

    I remember the respectful tones directed towards GWB. Oh, but he deserved it, right? As for Clinton. Think about it, the most powerful man in the world uses an intern for his pleasure. That couldn't be dangerous from simply a security standpoint? Do your remember Petraeus' being criticized for possibly jeopardizing security? And rightfully so, I might add.

    And remember, Petraeus being referred to as "General Betray Us"? Lotsa love there. And I remember, 9/11 was an inside job. Bush and Cheney led us to war oil. Protests everywhere they went. I'm not defending them, simply pointed out that they were criticized.

    Remember Rep Greyson saying the Republican plan was for people to die? Lotsa love there. Mitt Romney is a racist, greedy, etc. Lotsa love there.

    The difference is; when you criticize a Republican, they deserve it. Whey you criticize a progessive it is hate. Remember Joe Lieberman? The hatred directed his way from the left?

    January 31, 2013 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  21. Rob

    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. So much for the Socalist party be so "pure". They are all politicans in Washington, regardless of party. Look up politicans and it will say, "See Crooks"

    January 31, 2013 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  22. KeninTexas

    This is the same senator who had an illegal working for him that was covered up until after the election. What a hypocrite. I hope they throw the book at him for child molestation. What a fall from grace that would be. Couldn't have happened to a more deserving guy.

    January 31, 2013 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  23. n222s

    Larry, google protest bush signs. You'll see the love in full display.

    January 31, 2013 11:34 am at 11:34 am |
  24. lottie

    citizens for responsibility is a repo group that either makes stuff up or tries to builds stuff up to keep people from getting elected. There may be some truth to this but I would really check it out as their goal is to destroy the opposition. I know it is hard to believe that a repo would lie but there it is.

    January 31, 2013 11:35 am at 11:35 am |
  25. Bongo

    Good to see this investigation of political corruption FINALLY coming to the front page where it should be. Of course Menendez denied all the charges. They always do, at least until substantive proof is published, then they beg for mercy and offer 1,000 reasons for their transgressions.

    January 31, 2013 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
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