News Americas, WASHINGTON, D.C., Thurs. April 2, 2015: Cuban-American Senator, Robert Menendez has asserted his innocence and insisted he’s going nowhere despite being indicted for corruption by federal prosecutors Wednesday.
A defiant Menendez said the charges were politically motivated and “intended to silence me.”
“I have always conducted myself in accordance with the law. I have always stood up for what I believe is right. I fight for issues I believe in the people I represent and the safety and security of this country every single day. That’s who I am and I am proud of what I have accomplished and I am not going anywhere,” he said during a press conference Wednesday evening.
Still Menendez agreed to temporarily step aside as top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, according to a Senate Democratic aide even as he pledged to remain in office. “This is not how my career is going to end,” he said. “I’m angry and ready to fight because today contradicts my public service career and my entire life.” \
The case brought against the New Jersey senator by the Justice Department claims Menendez used his office to push the business interests of a friend and donor, Dr. Salomon Melgen, a Florida ophthalmologist, in exchange for gifts.
Melgen was also indicted Wednesday.
Menendez, 61, of Paramus, New Jersey, and Melgen, 60, of Palm Beach, Florida, were indicted in the District of New Jersey for one count of conspiracy, one count of violating the travel act, eight counts of bribery and three counts of honest services fraud. Menendez was also charged with one count of making false statements.
According to allegations in the indictment, between January 2006 and January 2013, Menendez accepted close to $1 million worth of lavish gifts and campaign contributions from Melgen in exchange for using the power of his Senate office to influence the outcome of ongoing contractual and Medicare billing disputes worth tens of millions of dollars to Melgen and to support the visa applications of several of Melgen’s girlfriends.
Specifically, the indictment alleges that, among other gifts, Menendez accepted flights on Melgen’s private jet, a first-class commercial flight and a flight on a chartered jet; numerous vacations at Melgen’s Caribbean villa in the Dominican Republic and at a hotel room in Paris; and $40,000 in contributions to his legal defense fund and over $750,000 in campaign contributions. Menendez never disclosed any of the reportable gifts that he received from Melgen on his financial disclosure forms.
According to allegations in the indictment, during this same time period, Menendez allegedly engaged in three efforts to use his Senate office and staff to advocate on behalf of Melgen’s personal and financial interests. First, Menendez allegedly pressured executive agencies in connection with a conflict between Melgen and the government of the Dominican Republic relating to a disputed contract that Melgen purchased to provide exclusive screening of containers coming through Dominican ports. Second, Menendez allegedly advocated on behalf of Melgen in connection with a Medicare billing dispute worth approximately $8.9 million to Melgen. Third, Menendez allegedly took active steps to support the tourist and student visa applications of three of Melgen’s girlfriends, as well as the visa application of the younger sister of one of Melgen’s girlfriends. Throughout these efforts, Menendez allegedly engaged in advocacy for Melgen all the way up to the highest levels of the U.S. government, including meeting with a U.S. cabinet secretary, contacting a U.S. Ambassador, meeting with the heads of executive agencies and other senior executive officials and soliciting other U.S. Senators, all in order to assist Melgen’s personal and pecuniary interests.
The case is being investigated by the FBI and prosecuted by Deputy Chiefs Peter Koski and J.P. Cooney, and Trial Attorney Monique Abrishami of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section.