The investigation of Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., highlights the fact that the small Caribbean nation of the Dominican Republic has a problem with human trafficking and "sex tourism," something the U.S. State Department has confirmed.
The small island nation is in the news because of the investigation into expenses of Menendez's travel there, with spin-off allegations that the New Jersey politician was involved with a 16-year-old prostitute
. The girl, now 17, has confirmed the dalliance which reportedly took place at the mansion of a Menendez campaign contributor.
The 2011 "Country Reports on Human Rights," finds that "child prostitution and other abuses of children, trafficking in persons" are among many of the social and criminal problems plaguing the Dominican Republic, CNSnews.com
"Sex tourism existed throughout the country, particularly in Las Terrenas, Cabarete, Sosua, and Boca Chica," according to the State Department report
. "NGOs [non-governmental organizations] conducted education and awareness programs on the problem for hotel and industrial zone workers, male and female prostitutes, and other high-risk groups.”
The sex allegation against Menendez was first reported late last year by The Daily Caller, but until recently had been ignored by the mainstream media.
Menendez denied the allegations in an interview with CNN
"The smears that right-wing blogs have been pushing since the election, and that are totally unsubstantiated. It's amazing to me that anonymous, nameless, faceless individuals on a website can drive that type of story into the mainstream. But that's what they've done successfully," said Menendez. "Now nobody can find them, no one ever met them, no one ever talked to them, but that’s where we're at, the bottom line is that all of those smears are absolutely false, and that's the bottom line."
Countering the senator's denial, The Daily Caller
on Tuesday released an excerpt from a now 17-year-old Dominican prostitute who in a letter written to a whistle-blower last year recalled having sex with Menendez when she was 16.
"During [one] visit of Senator Bob Menendez to the Dominican Republic, I had intimate relations with him on more than one occasion,” wrote the unidentified woman.
According to The Daily Caller, the underage prostitute is one of at least six women who reportedly engaged in sex for money with Menendez, a divorced father of two, whose parents immigrated to the United States from Cuba.
Prostitution is legal in the Dominican Republic, but child prostitution is not, according to the State Department.
In addition to the allegation that Menendez paid for sex with a minor, The Daily Caller brought to light several campaign fundraising flights the senator took to the Dominican Republic in 2010, courtesy of Florida eye surgeon, friend, and campaign contributor, Dr. Salomon E. Melgen.
Last Tuesday, the FBI raided the offices of Melgen
, who the Internal Revenue Service says owes $11.1 million in back taxes from 2006 to 2009.
On Jan. 4, Menendez reimbursed Melgen almost $60,000 for the flights.
In Monday's CNN interview, Menendez called it an oversight due to his, "big travel schedule in 2010."
"When it came to my attention the payment had not taken place, I personally paid for them in order to meet my obligation," said Menendez.
CNN reporter Dana Bash then asked Menendez to address the perception among some that he "didn't pay for it until you got caught."
"Well that's not the case," Menendez responded. "The bottom line is that when it came to my attention, I paid for it."
In addition to allowing Menendez to use his private jet, Melgen's mansion was also the site of the alleged prostitution use, according to The Daily Caller.
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