On Friday, several published reports claimed that the federal Department of Justice is preparing corruption charges against U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez as a result of political favors he allegedly did for Florida ophthalmologist Salomon Melgen in return for gifts and donations.
Melgen, a Dominican native who settled in the United States in 1980, and his family have donated about $1 million to Menendez campaigns and similar entities such as the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
Menendez was chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and a past DSCC head. Menendez and Melgen both have denied any wrongdoing and the case could have a chilling effect on the ability of candidates to raise money for political campaigns.
“The Senator has counted Dr. Melgen as one of his closest personal friends for decades,” said Tricia Enright, the senator’s communication director, in a statement Friday. “The two have spent holidays together and have gone to each other’s family funerals and weddings and have exchanged personal gifts.”
Melgen has made many trips to the senator’s home in New Jersey, and Menendez has vacationed with Melgen and his wife at their mansion in the Dominican Republic, according to media reports.
In January 2013, FBI agents swarmed Melgen’s Florida medical office and hauled off more than 30 boxes of evidence. FBI agents returned in October of that year, carrying boxes of documents out of the office.
The controversy hasn’t hurt Menendez’s standing among New Jersey voters, according to a recent Monmouth University poll.
During the 2012 campaign, Melgen sent four big checks totaling $103,500 to Democratic county committees in Passaic, Union, Essex and Camden.
Charlotte DeFilippo, the former Union County Democratic chairwoman, said Melgen’s money helped Democrats up and down the ticket but it was solicited by Menendez, who appeared on the ticket that year.
An aide for Menendez said the two have been personal friends for more than two decades. They appear to have first met at a Florida fundraiser some 20 years ago, when Menendez, newly sworn in as New Jersey’s first Hispanic congressman, was running for re-election.
An investigation all but engulfed Menendez, after claims by an unnamed tipster appearing on a conservative website that Melgen had provided the senator with free trips to the Dominican Republic, for trysts with prostitutes.
Menendez was exonerated of any link to prostitutes but in January 2013, the senator paid back $58,500 for two flights on the doctor’s private jet that he failed to report under Senate rules as a gift exemption for personal friends.
Melgen and his family gave nearly $50,000 over time to Menendez’s various campaigns and political committees, as well as $700,000 in 2012 to the Majority PAC, a super PAC that spent $582,500 to benefit the New Jersey lawmaker during the fall campaign.
Menendez defended defended himself with a press conference at the Hilton in Newark on Friday, March 6, 2015.
“I have always conducted myself appropriately and in accordance with the law,” Menendez said. “Every action that I and my office have taken for the 23 years that I have been privileged to be in the United States Congress has been based on pursuing the best policies for the people of New Jersey and of this entire country.”
As to Dr. Melgen, anyone knows us knows he and his family — and me and my family — have been real friends for more than two decades,” Menendez said. “We celebrated holidays together, we have been there for family weddings and sad times like funerals, and have given each other birthday, holiday and wedding presents — just as friends do.”
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