Tags: bob Menendez | NJ | New Jersey | corruption | charges | federal | salomon Melgen

Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez Facing Corruption Charges

By    |   Friday, 06 Mar 2015 03:54 PM

After a two-year investigation, the Justice Department is expected to bring criminal charges against New Jersey Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez, according to multiple news sources.

Menendez allegedly used his Senate office to push the business interests of a Democratic donor and friend in exchange for gifts, CNN said.

In a statement, Tricia Enright, Menendez's communications director, said that, "As we have said before, we believe all of the senator's actions have been appropriate and lawful and the facts will ultimately confirm that.

"Any actions taken by Senator Menendez or his office have been to appropriately address public policy issues and not for any other reason," she said in the statement, which was published by The Washington Post.

Attorney General Eric Holder approved requests by prosecutors in the public integrity section to bring forth the charges, according to CNN, and an announcement could come within weeks.

When Holder was asked about the Menendez reports on Friday in South Carolina, he said, “I can’t comment on that,” The New York Times reports.

Prosecutors are nearing a deadline under the statute of limitations on some of the allegations.

The FBI and the Justice Department have pursued allegations against Menendez in recent years, which the senator has denounced as a "smear campaign" against him.

The charges are expected to involve Menendez's relationship with Salomon Melgen, a Florida ophthalmologist whom the senator has called a friend and political supporter, according to CNN.

Melgen and his family have generously supported Menendez and various committees that he has served on.

Plane trips Menendez took in 2010 to the Dominican Republic as a guest of Melgen are the focus of the Justice Department investigation. The probe first became public in 2013 — and Menendez paid Melgen $58,000 for the plane trips, calling his failure to disclose the flights an "oversight."

Menendez, 61, one of the highest ranking Hispanic members of Congress, is in his second full term as senator. He led the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee from 2009 to 2011. The senator has long denied wrongdoing in his ties to Melgen.

"The senator has counted Dr. Melgen as one of his closest personal friends for decades," Enright said. "The two have spent holidays together and have gone to each other’s family funerals and weddings and have exchanged personal gifts.

"As has been reported, the start of this investigation is suspect. We know many false allegations have been made about this matter, allegations that were ultimately publicly discredited.

"We also know that the official investigation of this matter is ongoing, and therefore cannot address allegations being made anonymously," Enright said.

Menendez is the former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and has been one of the Obama administration's strongest Democratic opponents in recent months on the president's decision to ease the trade embargo against Cuba and to hold direct talks with Iran over its nuclear arsenal.

The case is expected to test the Justice Department's ability to prosecute sitting lawmakers and it has already raised legal issues over whether key evidence gathered by the agency is protected by the speech and debate clause of the Constitution.

Melgen’s practice in Florida was raided by federal authorities twice in 2013, The Washington Times reports. He billed the federal Medicare program more than $20 million the previous year, according to data released by the administration in 2013, and he was among  2 percent of the doctors participating in the program who accounted for nearly a quarter of Medicare’s billings.

Menendez's advocacy on Melgen's behalf with federal Medicare administrators who have accused him of overbilling the agency is at the center of the Justice Department's investigation.

Melgen was among the top recipients of Medicare reimbursements during the years when he was a major Democratic donor, according to the report. Melgen's attorneys have denied wrongdoing.

More specifically, prosecutors are focusing on whether Menendez broke the law in advocating for Melgen in a contract for port-screening equipment with the government of the Dominican Republic.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency had considered donating the equipment to the Dominican Republic. The deal would have hurt the contract of ICSSI, a company that was controlled by Melgen, according to CNN.

During a Senate subcommittee in 2012, Menendez didn't mention ICSSI by name, CNN reports, but he did press Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Rooney about an unnamed company who had a contract to X-ray cargo that went through all Dominican ports.

He said that the contract was one that Dominican authorities "don't want to live by."
"If those countries can get away with that, they will," the senator said, according to CNN. "And that puts American companies at a tremendous disadvantage."

Menendez's office said then that the senator's interest was based on his efforts to combat narcotics trafficking in the region.

The probe began with a tip that Melgen had helped pay for underage prostitutes for Menendez in the Dominican Republic, The New York Times reports. The women who made the accusations ultimately recanted, but the FBI continued its investigation.

Regarding the Medicaid billings, Melgen was in a dispute with the government over his reimbursement for Lucentis, a costly medication used to treat macular degeneration, the Times reports.

Menendez has acknowledged urging the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to change its reimbursement policy but said he considered the policy unfair.

"The bottom line is, we raised concerns with CMS over policy and over ambiguities that are difficult for medical providers to understand and to seek a clarification of that and to make sure, in doing so, providers would understand how to attain themselves," Menendez said in 2013.

Of the $20.8 million paid to Melgen by Medicare in 2012, $11.7 million went to reimbursements for the Lucentis treatments, The Miami Herald reported in April 2014.
He used the drug in more than 37,000 treatments in 2012.

Kirk Ogrosky, Melgen's attorney, told the Herald that his client had not defrauded Medicare, adding that while the payouts appeared "large, the vast majority reflects the cost of drugs."

Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.


 


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After a two-year investigation, the Justice Department is expected to bring criminal charges against New Jersey Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez, according to multiple news sources.
bob Menendez, NJ, New Jersey, corruption, charges, federal, salomon Melgen, Florida, Dominican Republic
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2015-54-06
Friday, 06 Mar 2015 03:54 PM
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