Published January 30, 2013
Sen. Robert Menendez's office said Wednesday that he traveled three times on a plane owned by a prominent Florida political donor but that the trips were paid for and reported appropriately.
At the same time, the New Jersey lawmaker's office said unsubstantiated allegations the senator engaged in sex with prostitutes in the Dominican Republic are false.
Menendez's office said that any accusations of engaging with prostitutes "are manufactured by a politically motivated right-wing blog and are false."
FBI agents raided the business of Dr. Salomon Melgen, a Florida eye doctor and Menendez donor, collecting evidence for an investigation into the finances of the well-connected doctor.
“Dr. Melgen has been a friend and political supporter of Senator Menendez for many years. Senator Menendez has traveled on Dr. Melgen’s plane on three occasions, all of which have been paid for and reported appropriately.”
Late Tuesday night, FBI agents seized evidence from Melgen's West Palm Beach office. Melgen is suspected of providing underage prostitutes to the senator in the Dominican Republic.
The FBI is believed to be focusing its investigation on the senator's alleged contact with Dominican prostitutes and whether the doctor played any role in the matter, The Miami Herald is reporting.
At FBI headquarters in Washington, spokesman Jason Pack said the bureau "cannot comment on the existence or status of an investigation." Justice Department spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler also declined to comment.
The scandal has moved into the spotlight as Menendez himself has had more of a high profile in the role of interim chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, succeeding Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass.
Menendez's office said in a statement that Melgen has been a friend and political supporter of the senator for many years and that the three trips that Menendez took have been "paid for and reported appropriately."
Menendez's office did not say whether the three trips were to the Dominican Republic or elsewhere. The statement did not say whether the trips were paid by Menendez personally or by his senatorial or his campaign accounts, nor did it specify how they were reported.
Melgen's West Palm Beach office was unable to be reached for comment. A person who answered the phone at the Delray Beach office told Fox News Latino early Wednesday that she was not sure whether the office would be opening for the day.
Since 1998, Melgen has contributed at least $357,000 to political campaigns and committees, including the political campaigns of Menendez, according to The Herald. Citing Florida and federal campaign records, Melgen contributed 9 percent of his political contributions to Menendez's federal campaign.
Melgen currently owes $11 million in back taxes from 2006 to 2009 according to the Palm Beach County recorder’s office. In 2011, a previous IRS lien for $6.2 million was released.
Despite his financial woes, Melgen lives a lavish lifestyle, including his own private jet which he frequently uses to travel between Florida and the Dominican resort town of Casa de Campo where the doctor is from.
News of the link between the longtime friends surfaced for the first time when the website the Daily Caller interviewed two alleged prostitutes who said they had relations with the senator at Melgen’s mansion in Casa de Campo.
On Jan. 25, emails between Special Agent Regino E. Chavez and a source named Peter Williams were published showing the FBI opened an inquiry on August 1, 2012, focusing on the trips Menendez took with Melgen.
The group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington referred Williams to the FBI back in July.
The group’s executive director, Melanie Sloan, told Fox News Latino the group made the decision to do so after receiving “a lot of information from this tipster” regarding Menendez and the prostitutes.
In 58 pages of e-mail exchanges between an FBI and an alleged source, the source claimed some of the prostitutes Menendez hired were underage.
It is unclear whether the allegations will stall or torpedo Menendez's widely expected move to head the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.