New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez indicted on corruption charges – Fox News

Posted: Wednesday, April 01, 2015
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March 23, 2015: U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., answers questions as he addresses a gathering in Garwood, N.J. (AP)

New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez was indicted Wednesday on corruption charges, accused of using his office to improperly benefit a political donor — who allegedly offered the senator an array of perks including trips on his private jet and access to an exclusive Dominican resort.

A federal grand jury indicted the powerful senator on 14 counts, including conspiracy to commit bribery and wire fraud.  

The Newark grand jury has been investigating Menendez for official actions he took on behalf of his friend Dr. Salomon Melgen. Melgen, a Florida ophthalmologist, was also indicted Wednesday. 

The indictment is a blow to Menendez, who is the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and until recently was chairman, at a critical time. He has been a leading skeptic of the Obama administration’s Cuba and Iran policies — the indictment comes as the U.S. and other world powers are struggling to strike a nuclear agreement with Iran. 

Menendez has acknowledged that he flew multiple times on Melgen’s private jet to the Dominican Republic and initially failed to properly pay for the trips. In 2013, Menendez agreed to reimburse Melgen $58,500 for the full cost of two flights.

The senator’s office later disclosed another flight from Florida to New Jersey in 2011, and said Menendez had repaid Melgen $11,250 for it.

Last year, Menendez disclosed that his campaign accounts had paid a law firm $250,000 for legal costs related to investigations by the Justice Department and the Senate Ethics Committee of his ties to Melgen. 

Menendez has also acknowledged taking actions that could benefit Melgen, among them contacting U.S. health agencies to ask about billing practices and policies.

But the lawmaker has said he did nothing wrong and that he and Melgen have been friends for decades.

“We celebrated holidays together,” he once told reporters. “We have been there for family weddings and sad times like funerals and have given each other birthday, holiday and wedding presents, just as friends do.”

In its case against Menendez, the government also points to emails between him and former Chief Counsel, Kerru Talbot and a staffer with Customs and Border Patrol in ‎which Talbot asked CBP not to donate screening equipment to the Dominican Republic, but instead to allow a private contractor controlled by Melgen to provide that equipment.

Melgen came under renewed scrutiny when government data last year showed he had received more in Medicare reimbursements in 2012 than any other doctor in the country.

Menendez becomes the first sitting U.S. senator to face indictment since then-Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, in 2008. Stevens was found guilty of concealing gifts from donors on financial disclosure statements, but the Justice Department later dropped the case after admitting that prosecutors failed to turn over evidence that would have been favorable to his defense.

“Senator Menendez’s ethics lapses have long been a distraction to the United States Senate,” Andrea Bozek, a spokeswoman with the National Republican Senatorial Committee said in a written statement. “With today’s indictment, the FBI and the Justice Department made it clear that Senator Menendez has betrayed the trust of New Jersey families. His actions reinforce all that the American people believe is wrong with Washington Democrats and closes the book on a Senate Democrat majority that put their personal interests ahead of the American people.”

Menedez joined the Senate in 2006 after serving more than a decade in the House of Representatives.

A lawyer and former mayor of Union City, New Jersey, Menendez also served in the New Jersey General Assembly and state Senate.

Fox News’ Jake Gibson and Nicole Busch and The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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