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Report: Federal Grand Jury Investigating Senator Bob Menendez

Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, who recently took over the Chairmanship of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is under investigation by a Federal Grand Jury:

A federal grand jury in Miami is investigating Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), examining his role in advocating for the business interests of a wealthy donor and friend, according to three people aware of the probe.

Menendez has intervened in matters affecting the financial interests of Florida ophthalmologist Salomon Melgen, seeking to apply pressure on the Dominican government to honor a contract with Melgen’s port-security company, documents and interviews show. Also, Menendez’s office has acknowledged he interceded with federal health-care officials after they said that Melgen had overbilled the U.S. government for care at his clinic.

Melgen has provided Menendez with plane flights and hospitality at his Dominican vacation home, say people acquainted with their relationship.

Last month, people with knowledge of the case said FBI agents were conducting interviews in the Dominican Republic and the United States concerning allegations against Menendez, including the role he played in advocating for the enforcement of the port-security contract. A grand jury probe, which involves a prosecutor pursuing allegations with an eye toward possible indictment, typically represents a legal escalation, though it does not always lead to a prosecution.

As part of the grand jury investigation, the three people said, federal agents have questioned witnesses about the interactions between Menendez and Melgen, who contributed $700,000 last year to Menendez and other Senate Democrats. The grand jury has also issued subpoenas for Melgen’s business and financial records, according to two people briefed on the probe who, like the others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe an on­going investigation.

Federal agents have not contacted Menendez, according to a person familiar with the case.

The senator, who chairs the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, acknowledged in January that he had previously failed to disclose two free trips he took on Melgen’s private plane to vacation with him in the Dominican Republic in 2010. Menendez said he wrote Melgen a personal check this winter for $58,500 to reimburse him for the plane rides. The Senate Ethics Committee is investigating why Menendez did not disclose the flights sooner.

Menendez, in an interview in his Senate office, declined Thursday to say whether he knew anything about the investigation, but he said any probe would find no wrongdoing.

“I welcome any review, because I believe, at the end of the day, that my actions have been appropriate,” the senator said. “And just as everything that gave rise to this was a smear campaign based on slanders that drove the original story, I believe that when any review reviews the facts, they will determine that I have acted appropriately at all times.”

Menendez said Thursday that his failure to disclose the flights was a “mistake” resulting from confusion about his frequent travel during 2010, when he was heading the Democrats’ Senate campaign committee.

“In the midst of all of that travel, flights that should have been filed in a different way weren’t,” he said.

He said he could have likely received an exemption from the Senate Ethics Committee based on his long friendship with Melgen. “But I said, ‘You know, it’s past, and the right thing at the moment is to pay for it,’ ” he said. “When I learned of the mistake, I did what was right and took care of it.”

Melgen attorney Kirk Ogrosky said the eye doctor is proud of his relationship with the senator and has no worries about any federal investigation. “Doctor Melgen has been a friend and supporter of Senator Menendez for over 20 years,” Ogrosky said. “We are confident that any inquiry will determine that Doctor Melgen acted appropriately at all times.”

A spokesman for the FBI’s Miami office declined to comment.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Miami said Thursday it could not confirm or deny the existence of an ongoing investigation.

The inquiry, which is still in its early stages, began with two disparate issues, according to people familiar with the matter. First, auditors had, for some time, been reviewing allegations that Melgen was fraudulently overbilling Medicare for treating his patients. Melgen’s attorney has said that the doctor’s billing was completely appropriate.

Then, in the fall, the FBI began looking into an anonymous tipster’s allegations that Melgen had arranged prostitutes for Menendez in the Dominican Republic. Such an arrangement could constitute providing a favor or gift under the bribery statute that investigators have been reviewing.

Menendez, of course hasn’t been charged with anything yet and is innocent unless and until proven guilty, but this cannot be a welcome development for the Senator as he tries to take on the Chairmanship of one of the Senate’s most important Committees.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    Nice to see you’re staying on this story, Doug. Did you hear that the Washington Post “busting” of the Daily Caller story is falling apart?

    Not saying that theDC got it right… but in their rush to shut down that story, the WaPo got a LOT wrong.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2

  2. legion says:

    It’ll be interesting to see if any of Tucker Carlson’s Junior Detective Squad gets questioned about just which prostitute they get their story from…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  3. legion says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13: Considering that that Patterico story relies almost entirely on unspecified Twitter users and Tucker Carlson himself, you’ll pardon me if I don’t hold my breath…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  4. mantis says:

    @Jay Tea’s credulous puppet Jenos Idanian #13:

    Not saying that theDC got it right… but in their rush to shut down that story, the WaPo got a LOT wrong.

    Nowhere in that link does Patterico (or the Daily Caller, whom he unquestionably quotes as if they weren’t the idiots who ran with such a weak and obviously manufactured story) identify where WaPo got anything wrong. He copy and pastes a Daily Caller piece questioning some details in one of the affidavits the WaPo got ahold of. Those don’t even prove that the details in the affidavit are false (just that the DC couldn’t confirm them, but I’m surprised they can tie their shoes so that doesn’t mean anything), let alone that WaPo knew they were false. Hell, they don’t even know if the affidavit they are looking at, which came from Jonathan Katz on Twitter from unknown sources, is the same one WaPo has.

    BTW, the WaPo’s reporting on this may have been wrong, or they may have gotten suckered by someone, but the DC and Patterico have not shown that. At all.

    My theory from the beginning is that someone who knew about Menendez’s obviously questionable financial activities invented the prostitution story and paid some Dominicans to “confess” (off a rehearsed script) because they know that you are a lot more likely to shine a media light on a sex scandal than a money scandal. If true, it seems to have worked quite well.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 1

  5. Andre Kenji says:

    The Daily Caller wrote that:

    “TheDC has been unable to confirm that the woman, who gave her name in the affidavit as Nexis de los Santos Santana, actually exists. She did not attend the March 4 press conference where the affidavit was first presented.

    In the affidavit, Nexis de los Santos Santana’s voter ID number — what Dominicans call a cedula — was presented as an 11-digit number. Dominican cedulas have 12 digits.”

    I can say that´s stupid. The ID Number is sequential, and has not a fixed number.For instance, my Brazilian ID number has eight digits, my mom(And people of her age) have an ID with seven digits, in some years there will be people with IDs with nine digits.

    If the Daily Caller can´t figure out such simple things it´s difficult to take them seriously.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0