Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) used his influence to intervene on behalf of a security company owned by Dr. Salomon Melgen, the Florida-based eye surgeon at the center of a Medicare fraud scandal and who was known to be flying Menendez to the Dominican Republic without reimbursement.
The New York Times reports Menendez, a high-ranking Senate Democrat, pressured the State Department to enforce a $500 million contract with a security company that Melgen, who has no previous security experience, coincidentally bought two years ago.
This past week, Melgen’s West Palm Beach offices were raided by agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Melgen is under investigation for Medicare fraud and reportedly failing to pay taxes.
Melgen is a major Democratic donor, giving hundreds of thousands of dollars to both local and national Democrats, including Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz and Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL). Melgen and Menendez have been friends and political allies for years, according to both men.
Aides to Menendez admit he accepted two round-trip flights aboard Melgen’s private jet to the Dominican Republic back in 2010 — both without reporting the flights as gifts or reimbursing Melgen for the expense. After reports surfaced, the senator quietly sent Melgen’s company a check for more than $58,000.
The Daily Caller, which first brought the story to light, further charges that while in the Dominican Republic, Menendez utilized the services of prostitutes — some of whom were not of legal age. Menendez’s office denies the report.
Regardless, Menendez’s close friendship with Melgen is well-established.
The friendship between the two men is a focus among prominent Latinos, especially those with interests involving the Obama administration.
“Whenever I see Menendez, I see him with this medical doctor,” said Bernardo Vega, a former Dominican ambassador to the United States and now editor of a magazine that has been critical of the port deal.
In Florida political circles, one Miami Democrat explained, it is understood that anyone seeking a federal appointment that requires Mr. Menendez’s blessing should first get Dr. Melgen’s backing.
“If you needed Bob, you had to see Melgen,” said the Democrat, who insisted on anonymity for fear of upsetting party leaders. “Everybody in Miami knew that.”
The Times further reports that Melgen pressured editors of a Latino-oriented news website to downplay accomplishments by Hispanic Republicans, including Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, and “replace it” with praise for Menendez.