The corruption indictment federal prosecutors released against Sen. Robert MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezDemocrats reject hardball tactics against Senate parliamentarian Biden threatens more sanctions on Ethiopia, Eritrea over Tigray conflict Failed drug vote points to bigger challenges for Democrats MORE on Wednesday is filled with eye-popping allegations about the senator’s relationship with Florida ophthalmologist and donor Salomon Melgen.
Prosecutors seek to prove the New Jersey Democrat frequently used his office to further Melgen’s business interests in return for lavish gifts. But they also say he did personal favors for Melgen.
1. Visas for “foreign girlfriends”
Prosecutors say on multiple occasions, Menendez used his office to obtain visas for Melgen’s girlfriends.
In 2008, a Menendez staffer allegedly wrote to the State Department to vouch for the student visa application of a Brazilian lawyer, actress and model who was in a relationship with Melgen. Her tuition at the University of Miami, prosecutors say, was being paid by Melgen through his foundation.
Investigators also allege Menendez intervened in 2008 when a Dominican girlfriend of Melgen and her sister had their visas to visit Melgen denied.
“In my view, this is ONLY DUE to the fact that RM intervened,” one Menendez staffer allegedly wrote to another, appearing to reference Robert Menendez. “I’ve told RM.”
Menendez also allegedly helped a third girlfriend of Melgen get a tourist visa to visit him in 2007.
“She visited Miami, where she joined Melgen and Menendez for dinner at Azul, a restaurant at the Mandarin Hotel,” the indictment says. “Melgen introduced Menendez to Girlfriend 3 as the man who helped Girlfriend 3 with her visa.”
2. Medicare dispute
In 2008, Melgen was being investigated for overbilling Medicare for his services as an eye doctor — ultimately, he learned he would be fined roughly $8.9 million. The indictment alleges Menendez went to great lengths over the next few years to try to get the fines dropped.
Prosecutors say he and his staff — coordinating with Melgen and his lobbyist the entire time — arranged for Menendez to speak with two officials at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).
Menendez allegedly spoke to the second official, the acting administrator of CMS, “approximately six days after Melgen issued a $300,000 check from [Melgen’s company] to Majority PAC,” a major political action committee for Senate Democrats. The contribution was earmarked for New Jersey, according to the indictment.
The acting administrator did not alter her position on the issue of concern to Melgen, the indictment says.
Marilyn Tavenner served in that role at CMS between her nomination in 2011 and her confirmation in 2013. During the time of that meeting, Tavenner had been nominated but had not yet been confirmed by the Senate.
Menendez also allegedly enlisted the help of the office of then-Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidDemocrats say Biden must get more involved in budget fight Biden looks to climate to sell economic agenda Justice Breyer issues warning on remaking Supreme Court: 'What goes around comes around' MORE (Nev.), the complaint says. Prosecutors allege that Menendez spoke to the majority leader’s staff about Melgen’s complaints.
It was Reid’s staff who allegedly set up a meeting between the majority leader, Menendez and then-Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen SebeliusKathleen Sebelius65 former governors, mayors back bipartisan infrastructure deal Fauci: 'Horrifying' to hear CPAC crowd cheering anti-vaccination remarks The Memo: Biden and Democrats face dilemma on vaccine mandates MORE in August 2012.
Later that year, after prosecutors say Melgen donated another $300,000 to Majority PAC earmarked for New Jersey, the doctor allegedly emailed a memo detailing the status of his overbilling case to a fundraiser for the PAC and a former aide to Reid — who promised to “give this to him directly” without stating who she was referring to explicitly.
3. Free flights
Menendez is also accused of accepting seven round-trip flights from Melgen on either his private plane, a charter flight or a first-class commercial flight that included the senator or his guests. For at least some of those trips, Menendez stayed at Melgen’s vacation villa in Casa de Campo, according to the indictment.
In September 2010, Menendez allegedly flew round-trip on Melgen’s private jet with a guest for a wedding and later stayed at a two-bedroom suite in the Tortuga Bay Hotel Puntacana Resort. The indictment claims Melgen covered the cost of the hotel room, about $770.
Melgen also allegedly bought Menendez an $890 first-class ticket to travel from New Jersey to Florida, and then an $8,000 charter flight from Florida to New Jersey three days later. The indictment says Menendez was the only person on that charter flight.
4. Dominican Republic
Menendez also allegedly stepped in to protect Melgen’s contract to install X-ray machines in all Dominican ports, which the Justice Department values as potentially worth “many millions of dollars.”
The indictment claims the senator stepped in to ask the federal government to help him settle a contract dispute, and that on the same day Menendez’s staff began to arrange a meeting between the senator and a State Department official, Melgen promised a Menendez staffer his family would donate $60,000 to the senator’s legal fund.
The senator met with an assistant secretary of State on the same day that $20,000 was donated to the legal defense fund, and a month after he returned from the Dominican Republic. Melgen had also visited the island at the same time as Menendez.
During the meeting with the State Department official, Menendez allegedly “expressed dissatisfaction with [the State Department’s] lack of initiative in enforcement of the contract.”
Investigators also allege the assistant secretary sent an email to his staff that claimed Menendez threatened to compel the official to testify at a hearing if the matter wasn’t resolved.
Menendez also asked U.S. Customs and Border Protection to stop donating equipment to the Dominican Republic to be used to monitor shipping containers, which could have impeded on Melgen’s contract, according to the indictment. But CBP officials assured the senator’s office that they were not planning on sending additional equipment.
5. Luxury Paris hotel room
Prosecutors allege Melgen paid for Menendez’s room in the posh Park Hyatt Paris-Vendôme so he could see “a woman with whom he had a personal relationship.”
The woman was staying at the hotel with her sister, who was there on a business trip, prosecutors say.
The room where Menendez allegedly stayed was valued at $4,934.10, prosecutors say. After having his staff research room rates, they say, Menendez asked Melgen to book “either the Park Suite King or the Park Deluxe King” using the doctor’s American Express reward points.
He allegedly told Melgen in an email that the room had a “king bed, work areas with internet, limestone bath with soaking tub and enclosed rain shower, [and] views of courtyard or streets.”
“You call American Express Rewards and they will book it for you,” prosecutors allege he wrote to the doctor in the email. “It would need to be in my name.”