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. Patrick in Wisconsin

    Is this guy related to Mark Sanford or something? This is all sounding familiar...

    January 31, 2013 06:05 pm at 6:05 pm |
  2. here we go

    half apology.
    full apology.
    May 1st?

    January 31, 2013 06:08 pm at 6:08 pm |
  3. Gerry Daley

    Hmmm....makes me think of "Diaper Me David Vitter" and "Wide Stance Larry Craig"...among other GOP hypocrites...

    January 31, 2013 06:08 pm at 6:08 pm |
  4. Chuck

    If this was a Republican it would be front page news for sure!! FYI!

    January 31, 2013 06:13 pm at 6:13 pm |
  5. George

    This is a non-story. It's a Democrat male and women. The story would be if it happened to be a Republican male with women.

    January 31, 2013 06:20 pm at 6:20 pm |

    liar, liar pants on fire....

    January 31, 2013 06:22 pm at 6:22 pm |
  7. joesmith

    its; been said," where theres smoke, theres fire".. maybe he has the lost little black book of the dc madam..

    January 31, 2013 06:44 pm at 6:44 pm |
  8. Geoman

    I'm surprised CNN even reported this. I mean, a Dem doing something wrong? If it were a GOP member, they'd have them crucified.

    January 31, 2013 06:49 pm at 6:49 pm |
  9. JustSaying2u

    He should've been a Republican Senator from Louisiana ( Sen Vitter). Then he would've received a standing ovation on the Senate floor.

    January 31, 2013 07:02 pm at 7:02 pm |
  10. empresstrudy

    Oh it all sounds completely legit. On a plane owned by a political donor who's in hock for millions to the IRS.

    January 31, 2013 07:17 pm at 7:17 pm |
  11. independant jim

    If that is all he did whats the fuss all about

    January 31, 2013 07:24 pm at 7:24 pm |
  12. Chicago

    Of course he did it. Unless of course he was out skeet shooting with the President.

    January 31, 2013 07:27 pm at 7:27 pm |
  13. Lulwhut

    Eh, if this had come from another source other than a conservawiki I'd believe it.

    How it is, Innocent until proven guilty. If he's guilty, I hope he gets what he deserves. If he's innocent, I hope that the Senator who brought these charges gets flogged for taking the word of a blogger site.

    January 31, 2013 07:34 pm at 7:34 pm |
  14. belinda

    Republicans have done this too, so let's not get too excited. Some are still in office. They're stories should be researched and come out too, it's only fair.

    January 31, 2013 07:44 pm at 7:44 pm |
  15. Erik

    Wow Bill...I thought your party was the one of tolerence for gays....looks like that is a scam for votes according to your comments.

    January 31, 2013 07:56 pm at 7:56 pm |
  16. Loyalright

    Well that is putting out tax dollars to work. I'm glad someone benefits from our hard earned money.

    January 31, 2013 08:03 pm at 8:03 pm |
  17. JOSH

    Hum...finally dirt is hitting the fan.

    January 31, 2013 08:15 pm at 8:15 pm |
  18. David M

    He's a politician, which means he is above the laws that apply to us little people.

    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. That statement actually translates to 'he tried to sweep it under the rug and not pay for it. When it came to light, then he paid up'.

    Just one more piece of evidence that neither party has the corner on lying, cheating, and unethical behavior.

    January 31, 2013 08:31 pm at 8:31 pm |
  19. ObaWendon

    I think if we really dug deeply into the actions of our illustrious politicians regardless of party we would find items such as this in their closets. I don't care who they are as far as party affiliation, makes no differenct to me, but as people such as Newt found out, don't pick on the other guy, you may find yourself in the same boat! They all think they are bigger than life and can pick on the other guy and then claim to be holyier than thou.

    January 31, 2013 09:03 pm at 9:03 pm |
  20. Triple A

    He is a Liberal, other Liberals see this as normal.... They are like....what's the problem.

    January 31, 2013 09:06 pm at 9:06 pm |
  21. Walter

    Oh man, a negative story on a lib and CNN finally posts it days after everyone has already heard about it. Did Jeffy tell you guys you couldn't sweep this under the rug like any other negative lib story?

    January 31, 2013 09:40 pm at 9:40 pm |
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