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. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    Where does it say that the prostitutes he was paying for, out of his own pocket, on his own time, while in another country were underaged?
    What is wrong with this single man boinking a prostitute? Who does that affect? It is not deviant behaviour, and he is entitled to his private life.
    It does not matter if he's Democrat, Independent, or a Republican. He's a red-blooded American male.
    Get over it.

    January 31, 2013 01:09 pm at 1:09 pm |
  2. jo jo

    Prostitution, like banking and the stock market, is an honorable profession.

    January 31, 2013 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  3. Steve

    So an anonymous source leaks this to Right wingers who can not verify it's true. And now it's national news. Unbelievable.

    January 31, 2013 01:21 pm at 1:21 pm |
  4. Lynda/Minnesota

    "Anthony Weiner denied denied denied too"

    I hate to burst your bubble, but this isn't a partisan issue. The media is full of these ... extracurricular congressional activities. From both sides of the aisle.

    January 31, 2013 01:21 pm at 1:21 pm |
  5. 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.
    Or "waterbed polo"? My point to you is simple. Don't lay all blame on the man for having relations with strangers.

    Check out IRS form 6241, line 43 when you get a chance. The figures you cited define the tax rate are on line 42. The 59k figure that I cited defines the minimum annual income level where you would have to re-calculate your taxes per AMT, and wind up paying the higher figure.

    Earned Income Credits, you lost that one, too. No kids required and it's income based first and foremost.

    January 31, 2013 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
  6. Dee

    What a bunch of nonsense! Congressmen and prostitutes, NO THAT CAN'T BE TRUE, Jeez, you will put a lot of women out of work if you pursue this! You think groupies only hang out around jocks, think again!

    January 31, 2013 01:28 pm at 1:28 pm |
  7. magbill

    Not reporting a $58,000 in-kind donation is an "oversight"???

    Only in Washington.

    January 31, 2013 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  8. can't resist

    In line to chair the "Foreign Relations" Committee. Well, at least he has relevant experience!

    January 31, 2013 01:31 pm at 1:31 pm |
  9. Truth

    Menendez doesn't hire prostitutes in much the same way Obama goes skeet shooting all the time!

    January 31, 2013 01:31 pm at 1:31 pm |
  10. Luke

    From the look of him I guess he needs to fly to a place that is pitifully poor and pay to fullfill his needs.

    January 31, 2013 01:59 pm at 1:59 pm |
  11. Wake up People!

    So this will be trending all day but nothing about the GOP sheriffs that are refusing to follow orders and enforce the gun laws.

    No wonder people think Kim Kartrashian is a celebrity......

    January 31, 2013 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  12. Joe M.

    I smell a way to get rid of Menendez and have Cory Booker appointed to the open seat rather than have to face Lautenberg in a primary. I'm not sure who has the power to appoint the interim Senator (obviously if it's Christie that's a no-go), but if it is a Dem, or the Dem-controlled legislature, it could happen.

    January 31, 2013 02:25 pm at 2:25 pm |
  13. Andy

    Four prostitutes have come forward, their names are being withheld because they were underage when this happened

    January 31, 2013 02:28 pm at 2:28 pm |
  14. Independent

    I find it funny how all you liberals say it is ok if on his time when it is a dem but as soon as a conservative does it, it is wrong and vise versus with conservatives! LOL Personally what he does on his time is his business but if he was a conservative you would have a field day. Double standard????

    January 31, 2013 02:29 pm at 2:29 pm |
  15. Larry L

    @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.
    ===================================================================================================== I've certainly got no argument for that comment. Many of the politicians I've supported (and still support) can't seem to control themselves in that arena. Henry Cisneros could have been the first Hispanic President. I'd have been less ashamed of Bill Clinton had he been caught with a better looking woman. At least JFK had standards!

    January 31, 2013 02:30 pm at 2:30 pm |
  16. NickAnast

    Menendez should have just called the DC Madam from the floor of the Senate, like GOP Sen. Vitter did.

    January 31, 2013 02:31 pm at 2:31 pm |
  17. California Gary

    If he paid for everything out his own pocket, then why would anyone care? What he did harms nobody......

    January 31, 2013 02:38 pm at 2:38 pm |
  18. FajitaBob

    this guy is so slimy, he'll NEVER leave office. I will never understand how people like this keep getting re-elected.

    January 31, 2013 02:44 pm at 2:44 pm |
  19. Thomas Jefferson

    To all of you who say "everyone does it, prostitution is not a big deal, he's a red blooded American.."

    Here is the law. The prostitute was underage. She was 16 and 17 when they had sex. This makes Menendez a criminal.

    Title 18, Part I, Chapter 117, Section 2423, Subsection C of US federal law states:

    "(c) Engaging in Illicit Sexual Conduct in Foreign Places.— Any United States citizen or alien admitted for permanent residence who travels in foreign commerce, and engages in any illicit sexual conduct with another person shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 30 years, or both."

    It doesn't matter if Meendez was inside the US or outside. It doesn't matter if he paid her. She was underage. He is a 'sex tourist" and that is a felony.

    Bye Bye Menendez.

    January 31, 2013 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  20. Erik

    Why dont you people care that what he did was illegal?

    He still is, like you and I, subject to US law and cannot travel abroad to solicit prostitutes. Plus if true, then the women were minors!

    Not to mention that it shows a complete lack of respect towards women. And they claim the GOP are having a war on women. Looks like the dems have a covert war on women.

    January 31, 2013 02:56 pm at 2:56 pm |
  21. Rudy NYC

    LarryL wrote:

    I've certainly got no argument for that comment. Many of the politicians I've supported (and still support) can't seem to control themselves in that arena. Henry Cisneros could have been the first Hispanic President. I'd have been less ashamed of Bill Clinton had he been caught with a better looking woman. At least JFK had standards!
    Don't overlook the fact that Fair is laying all blame on the males of the species.
    As for Bill Clinton. I guess he's a southern gentleman who likes his full figured Alabamazons.

    January 31, 2013 02:58 pm at 2:58 pm |
  22. Inde Di

    Whatever the outcome, he can always still return to politics at the highest level. Vitter is still in his job, the Appalachian Trail Governor who had to payback monies he used to visit his Foreign mistress is making a comeback. Sadly, personal values our grandparents left with us do not count anymore in todays politiicans, no matter whether they are from the left, right or centre.

    January 31, 2013 03:12 pm at 3:12 pm |
  23. RighteousRushRepublican

    Rush Limbaugh can come to his defense.

    January 31, 2013 03:12 pm at 3:12 pm |
  24. RighteousRushRepublican

    Rush used to do this. He was caught with Viagra coming back from there.

    January 31, 2013 03:13 pm at 3:13 pm |
  25. jkane sfl the gop national disgrace party will be swept out like the trash they are in2014 ?

    The gop trash party has 0 credibility, all this info coming from in named gop stooges ,who cares !!!!!

    January 31, 2013 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9