Originally published on April 2, 2015, at NationofChange.org
Federal prosecutors indicted Sen. Robert Menendez on corruption charges on Wednesday for allegedly accepting lavish gifts and contributions in exchange for political favors. According to the Justice Department’s public integrity unit, Sen. Menendez used his position to advance the business interests of campaign contributor and Florida ophthalmologist, Dr. Salomon Melgen. Investigated for years by the FBI, the Senate Ethics Committee, the Department of Health and Human Services (HSS), and a federal grand jury, Sen. Menendez and Dr. Melgen have finally been charged for participating in a bribery scheme.
After receiving an anonymous tip, the FBI began investigating allegations that Dr. Melgen had purchased underage prostitutes for Menendez during one of his trips to the Dominican Republic. Although the prostitutes eventually recanted their stories, the FBI and HHS investigators raided Dr. Melgen’s offices in January 2013. Less than a month later, Menendez became Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
In March 2013, a federal grand jury in Miami reportedly began investigating Menendez’s questionable relationship with Dr. Melgen. After acknowledging that he had failed to disclose two free trips aboard Dr. Melgen’s private plane in 2010, Menendez wrote the doctor a personal check for $58,500 to reimburse him for the rides. The Senate Ethics Committee launched an investigation into why Menendez did not disclose the flights earlier.
Under investigation for possibly overbilling Medicare, Dr. Melgen allegedly paid Menendez to abuse his position by trying to influence Medicare to alter its reimbursement polices. In exchange for political contributions and secret trips to the Dominican Republic, Menendez advocated for Dr. Melgen in meetings with then-Democratic majority leader Sen. Harry Reid, then-HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, and acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Marilyn Tavenner.
According to the indictment, between January 2006 and January 2013, Menendez accepted close to $1 million worth of lavish gifts and campaign contributions from Melgen in exchange for using the power of his office to influence Medicare billing disputes worth tens of millions of dollars to Melgen and to support the visa applications of several of Melgen’s girlfriends. Menendez also allegedly pressured executive agencies in connection with a conflict between Melgen and the government of the Dominican Republic relating to a disputed contract that Melgen purchased to provide container screening in Dominican ports.
Besides accepting flights aboard Dr. Melgen’s private jet and numerous vacations at his Dominican villa, Menendez also received $40,000 in contributions to his legal defense fund and over $750,000 in campaign contributions. According to the Justice Department, Menendez never disclosed any of the reportable gifts that he received from Dr. Melgen on his financial disclosure forms.
On Wednesday, a federal grand jury indicted Menendez and Dr. Melgen on multiple corruption charges. Both Menendez and Dr. Melgen have been charged with eight counts of bribery, three counts of honest services fraud, one count of conspiracy, and one count of violating the Travel Act. Menendez has also been charged with one count of making false statements.
“Government corruption – at any level of elected office – corrodes the public trust and weakens our democratic system,” stated Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell. “It is the fundamental responsibility of the Department of Justice to hold public officials accountable by conducting thorough investigations and seeking an indictment when the facts and the law support it.”