Menendez Now Under Senate Ethics Investigation

The Senate Ethics Committee has opened an investigation into Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) over his alleged inappropriate acceptance of gifts from a prominent Democratic donor now under federal investigation for Medicare fraud.

CBS News reports:

Late Tuesday night, the FBI and the Health and Human Services Department raided the West Palm Beach, Fla., offices belonging to Dr. Salomon Melgen, an eye doctor who has made large donations to Menendez, the New Jersey State Democratic Committee and other politicians. The FBI has not said why it was raiding Melgen’s office Tuesday night, but according to the Miami Herald, records show that Melgen has an outstanding IRS lien of $11.1 million for taxes owed from 2006 to 2009. The HHS Office of the Inspector General, meanwhile, is responsible for health care fraud cases (involving Medicare and Medicaid). HHS would not comment on the FBI’s involvement, though it is not unheard of for the FBI to participate in these types of investigations.

Menendez’s ties to Melgen came under scrutiny late last year, after a report was published alleging that Menendez flew to the Dominican Republic and slept with prostitutes at a resort in which Melgen has a home. Menendez on Wednesday released a statement denying he engaged with prostitutes. Then on Wednesday evening, Menendez’s office said the senator was reimbursing Melgen $58,000 for two of three trips he took on Melgen’s plane to the Dominican Republic in 2010.

Melgen has also written significant checks to Menendez allies including Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL), chair of the Democratic National Committee.

The New York Times has reported that Menendez, using his powerful oversight post on foreign affairs, intervened to help enforce a $500 million with a security company owned by Melgen. Melgen had previously purchased a controlling share in the company despite having no previous security or defense experience.

The Times also reports that Melgen owns a Latino news service, where he has exerted editorial pressure to downplay accomplishments by Republican Hispanic leaders like Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) while playing-up those of Menendez and his Democratic allies.