Originally published on March 7, 2015, at NationofChange.org
The Justice Department is preparing to file criminal corruption charges against former Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Sen. Robert “Bob” Menendez of New Jersey. A federal grand jury began investigating the senator two years ago after the FBI and Department of Health and Human Services (HSS) delved into allegations of Menendez exchanging political favors for lavish gifts from campaign contributor and Florida ophthalmologist, Dr. Salomon Melgen. In exchange for vacation trips and political donations, Menendez has allegedly obstructed a program to improve port security and attempted to interfere with Medicare’s reimbursement policies in order to advance Dr. Melgen’s business prospects.
A month after Sen. Menendez assumed office on January 17, 2006, Dr. Melgen began negotiations to purchase ICSSI, a Dominican company contracted to provide cargo screening in the Dominican Republic. In 2002, ICSSI had acquired a contract to provide screening throughout the country, but the government suspended the deal claiming the contract was too expensive and the bidding was too uncompetitive. Intent on purchasing ICSSI, Dr. Melgen fought to reinstate the contract, which was reportedly worth $500 million over 20 years.
During this time, Menendez began pushing legislation to require screening all ship containers headed to the U.S. In 2006, the Department of Homeland Security donated an x-ray scanning device to the Dominican Republic. Inspectors working at the Dominican port at Multimodal Caucedo found 5,000lbs of cocaine in a cargo container of peaches during the first week of operating the device.