Sen. Robert Menendez has been charged with corruption, and the 14-count indictment from the Department of Justice is a doozy.
The charges against Menendez, announced Wednesday, are one count of conspiracy, one count of violating the Travel Act, eight counts of bribery, three counts of honest services fraud, and one count of making false statements. Salomon Melgen, a Florida ophthalmologist and longtime Menendez donor, was also charged in the indictment.
The Department of Justice alleges that Menendez and Melgen "use[d] Menendez's official position as a United States Senator to benefit and enrich themselves through bribery."
After news of the charges broke, Menendez's office announced that the senator would make a statement at 7 p.m. Wednesday. Menendez was expected to announce that he would step down from his post as the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He is slated to appear in court Thursday.
According to DOJ, Menendez received roughly $1 million in gifts and campaign support from Melgen. Menendez also allegedly helped Melgen acquire visas for "several of Melgen's girlfriends."
The indictment alleges that Menendez used his office to "pressure" the State Department to sway the Dominican Republic to "abide by Melgen's multi-million dollar foreign contract to provide exclusive cargo screening services in Dominican ports," stop a donation of "shipping container monitoring and surveillance equipment" to the Dominican Republic which would have endangered Melgen's business, and "influence" the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services not to seek "millions of dollars in Medicare overbillings" from Melgen.
Menendez allegedly took more than a dozen paid-for or private flights and violated disclosure rules by not reporting the gifts. The senator, the indictment contends, "solicited and accepted" from Melgen "domestic and international flight on private jets, first-class domestic airfare, use of a Caribbean villa, access to an exclusive Dominican resort, a stay at a luxury hotel in Paris, expensive meals, golf outings, tens of thousands of dollars in contributions to a legal defense fund."
Melgen was a major contributor to Menendez's Senate campaigns. In 2012, according to the indictment, Melgen gave $600,000 to Majority PAC, which works to elect and reelect Senate Democrats, and earmarked it for Menendez's campaign. Menendez won that race by nearly 20 points.
On one occasion, Melgen allegedly paid almost $800 for Menendez and a guest to stay in a suite at the Tortuga Bay Hotel Puntacana Resort and Club. In April 2010, Menendez used Melgen's American Express Membership Rewards points to pay for an executive suite valued at $4,934.10 at a five-star Paris hotel. On another occasion in October of 2008, Melgen allegedly paid more than $800 for a car service to drive Menendez from Hoboken, N.J., to New York.
According to DOJ, Menendez—in turn—used his power to secure perks for Melgen. During his time in office, the senator "allegedly engaged in advocacy for Melgen all the way up to the highest levels of the U.S. government." The report alleges that Menendez did Melgen's bidding by meeting with Cabinet officials and international officials to settle disputes between Melgen and the Department of Health and Human Services on Medicare, as well as with the government of the Dominican Republic.
After learning that Melgen might be accused of overbilling Medicare, Menendez allegedly stepped in, emailing a staffer who handled health care issues to "[p]lease call him asap at [REDACTED] re a Medicare problem we need to help him with." The staffer allegedly informed Menendez that his office was in communication with Melgen and was already "looking in how [they could] be helpful." Conversations between Melgen and the staffers allegedly happened multiple times until Melgen was finally informed that he owed nearly $9 million. The indictment said Menendez then personally appealed to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Menendez's staff also made, according to the indictment, multiple attempts to arrange meetings for Menendez with then-Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.
According to the indictment, Menendez often acted to help Melgen without informing his staff of his actions. Menendez relied primarily on his chief of staff to be the go-between, handling gift exchanges and keeping tabs on how advocacy on Melgen's behalf was going.
Menendez allegedly helped secure visas for several of Melgen's girlfriends, one of whom—referred to as "Girlfriend 1" in the indictment—was a Brazilian actress and lawyer whom Melgen encouraged to attend graduate school. Menendez allegedly also helped Melgen secure a tourist visa for another woman, "Girlfriend 2," who worked as a model, and her sister.
In or around November 2008, the U.S. embassy denied the applications for Girlfriend 2 and her sister in a memo, included in the indictment: "Siblings, 18 and 22 yrs. old. No children. No previous travel. To go visit a friend in Florida. Neither is working. No solvency of their own. Not fully convinced of motives for travel." Menendez became personally involved, and in the beginning of December their visa applications were approved.
Menendez's staff, who were involved in securing the visas, took notice: "2 people from the [Dominican Republic] who wanted visas to visit Dr. Melgem [sic] GOT THEM," read a subject line of an email one Menendez staffer sent to the senator's chief of staff on their personal accounts. "In my view this is ONLY DUE to the fact that RM intervened. I've told RM."
Menendez also allegedly assisted in securing another tourist visa for Melgen's "Girlfriend 3," a Ukrainian model.
News that the charges were coming for the senior New Jersey senator has swirled around Capitol Hill for weeks. Now that they're here, the senator's influence over ongoing Iran negotiations looks to be in jeopardy—just as the U.S. is in the middle of crafting a framework agreement to curb the country's nuclear program. The timing could push Menendez, one of the Obama administration's biggest Democratic critics on Iran policy, out of the picture just as Republicans will be looking for Democratic allies to undermine a potential deal.
The charges mark the first indictment of a sitting U.S. senator since DOJ charged the late Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska.
This story has been updated with more information.
Marina Koren contributed to this article
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