A leading Democratic senator, Robert Menendez, has been indicted on corruption charges for allegedly taking gifts and campaign contributions in exchange for helping a friend get visas for his “several girlfriends” and in business.
Mr Menendez, a former chairman of the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, is accused of taking money and gifts worth nearly $1m (£670,000) to “influence the outcome” of Medicare and contractual billing disputes worth tens of millions of dollars to his friend, Salomon Melgen an ophthalmologist from Florida.
He also allegedly supported visa applications by “several of Melgen’s girlfriends”, the US Department of Justice said in a statement.
“Menendez allegedly engaged in three efforts to use his Senate office and staff to advocate on behalf of Melgen’s personal and financial interests,” the statement said.
“First, Menendez 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 exclusive screening of containers coming through Dominican ports.
“Second, Menendez allegedly advocated on behalf of Melgen in connection with a Medicare billing dispute worth approximately $8.9m to Melgen.
“Third, Menendez allegedly took active steps to support the tourist and student visa applications of three of Melgen’s girlfriends, as well as the visa application of the younger sister of one of Melgen’s girlfriends.”
The Justice Department said that Mr Menendez, 61, “allegedly engaged in advocacy for Melgen all the way up to the highest levels of the US government, including meeting with a US cabinet secretary, contacting a US Ambassador, meeting with the heads of executive agencies and other senior executive officials and soliciting other US Senators, all in order to assist Melgen’s personal and pecuniary interests”.
The gifts included flights on Mr Melgen’s private jet and other air travel, holidays at Mr Melgen’s villa in the Dominican Republic and at a Paris hotel, and $40,000 (about £27,000) in contributions to his legal defence fund and over $750,000 (about £500,000) in campaign contributions.
“Menendez never disclosed any of the reportable gifts that he received from Melgen on his financial disclosure forms,” the Justice Department added.
Mr Menendez and Mr Melgen were charged with one count of conspiracy, one count of violating the travel act, eight counts of bribery and three counts of honest services fraud, the Justice Department said. Mr Menendez was also charged with one count of making false statements.
The New Jersey senator has denied any wrongdoing with his spokeswoman saying his actions had been “appropriate and lawful” when it was first reported that he might face charges.
Political science professor Matthew Hale at Seton Hall University in New Jersey told Reuters: “It is important to remember that Senator Menendez grew up in the rough and tumble rink of North Jersey politics... He knows how to fight and I suspect he will fight these charges.”
Reuters contributed to this reportReuse content