Report: Menendez pressed officials over donor’s federal audit

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) pressed federal health officials about a Medicare dispute involving Florida doctor and political donor Salomon Melgen, according to a report in The Washington Post released late Wednesday.

Melgen, a close friend of Menendez’s, reportedly overbilled the U.S. government by almost $9 million, inviting a federal audit. Menendez aides said that the senator contacted officials on two occasions to complain that the billing rules were unclear and that the doctor was being treated unfairly, the Post reports.

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Melgen has been ordered to repay the money, but his appeal is ongoing.

The allegation is the latest involving Menendez’s relationship with Melgen, whom he has described as “a friend and political supporter.” 

The conservative Daily Caller website has alleged Menendez had sex with Dominican prostitutes on trips arranged by Melgen. 

Menendez denies the allegations of sexual impropriety, saying they were manufactured ahead of his election last November.

“The smears that right wing blogs have been pushing since the election, that is totally unsubstantiated — it's amazing to me that anonymous, nameless, faceless individuals on a website can drive that kind of story into the mainstream,” Menendez said Monday. “The bottom line is all of those smears are absolutely false.” 

The Senate Ethics Committee is also looking into claims that Menendez acted improperly by flying to the Dominican Republic on Melgen’s private plane. Menendez recently reimbursed Melgen’s company $58,500, the cost of the two trips from personal funds, after a complaint filed by the New Jersey Republican Party alleged that the senator had failed to account for some flights.

Melgen contributed to Menendez’s campaign and took him on at least three trips to the Dominican Republic aboard his private plane in 2010.

News of the Senate ethics panel's interest in Menendez's connection to Melgen came after another report that the New Jersey Democrat pressed members of the Obama administration to lift restrictions on a massive business deal to help his friend. 

The Miami Herald reported on an exchange from a July hearing of the Foreign Relations Committee in which Menendez referenced a contract the government of the Dominican Republic had awarded to a company owned by Melgen.

Melgen’s home was raided by the FBI earlier this month. It is unclear whether the FBI’s investigation of Melgen is targeting him for outstanding back taxes, his political contributions to Menendez and other lawmakers, or allegations over engaging with prostitutes.

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