CNN: Feds prepare criminal corruption charges against Senator Menendez
Washington (CNN)—The Justice Department is preparing to bring criminal corruption charges against New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez, a Democrat, alleging he used his Senate office to push the business interests of a Democratic donor and friend in exchange for gifts.
The FBI and prosecutors from the Justice Department’s public integrity section, have pursued a variety of allegations against Menendez, who has called the probe part of “smear campaign” against him.
The government’s case centers on Menendez’s relationship with Salomon Melgen, a Florida ophthalmologist who the senator has called a friend and political supporter
Investigators have focused in part on plane trips Menendez took in 2010 to the Dominican Republic as a guest of Melgen. In 2013, after word of the federal investigation became public, Menendez paid back Melgen $58,000 for the 2010 plane trips calling his failure to properly disclose the flights an “oversight.”
One of the highest ranking Hispanic members of Congress, Menendez is a former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He has become one of the Obama administration’s most vocal Democratic opponents on two key foreign policy matters — President Obama’s decision to ease the trade embargo against Cuba and also his effort to engage direct negotiations with Iran over that country’s nuclear program.
Menendez advocated on Melgen’s behalf with federal Medicare administrators who accused Melgen of overbilling the government’s healthcare program, according to court documents and people briefed on the probe. Melgen was among the top recipients of Medicare reimbursements in recent years, during a time when he was also a major Democratic donor. Melgen’s attorneys have denied any wrongdoing.
Prosecutors also are focusing on whether Menendez broke the law in advocating for Melgen’s business interest in a Dominican Republic government contract for a port screening equipment. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency, at the time, considered donating port screening equipment to the Dominican Republic, which would have hurt the contract of Melgen-controlled company.
Menendez, now serving his second full term as senator, led the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee from 2009-2011.