Prostitution scandal surrounding Sen. Menendez was a lie
By Ted Sherman and Salvador Rizzo/The Star-Ledger
TRENTON — A prostitution scandal that has engulfed Sen. Robert Menendez for months is a big lie, police in the Dominican Republic announced Monday, saying three women were paid more than $1,000 to make up stories about the encounters.
A spokesman for the National Police said authorities didn’t know who was behind the ruse, but were seeking to talk to a Dominican attorney who represented the women.
The women were made available for video interviews with American journalists days before the November election. Menendez, who was seeking a second full term, won by a substantial margin and recently became chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The videotaped interviews were ultimately put online by the Daily Caller, a conservative website, after several skeptical news organizations — including ABC News — were approached by an anonymous tipster.
An ethics advocacy group in Washington was also contacted but had doubts about the story as well, and gave what it knew to the FBI, which exchanged several e-mails with the anonymous tipster.
The police spokesman said the attorney who represented the women, Melanio Figueroa, paid two of them about $410, and the other was paid $290, giving them a scripted story to tell about what they thought was a divorce case. The police said they had not determined a motive or whether Figueroa was paid by someone else to set up the interviews.
Figueroa could not be reached for comment.
“The evidence released today by Dominican law enforcement authorities proves what we have said all along: that the smear campaign against Senator Menendez is based on lies; lies we now know were paid for by interests whose identities have not yet been fully disclosed,” Paul Brubaker, a spokesman for the New Jersey Democrat, said Monday.
Brubaker urged a federal investigation into the matter, noting that making intentionally false reports to a federal law enforcement agency is a criminal offense.
“These lies were peddled to reporters by Republican operatives, as ABC has reported, and also sent to the FBI by parties yet unknown.”
The Daily Caller, which is operated by Tucker Carlson, a conservative commentator, said only that it “has not independently verified the identities of the women involved in the Dominican National Police investigation, but will continue to investigate the case.”
David Martosko, the Daily Caller’s executive editor, who wrote many of the articles, left the website last week to become U.S. political editor of the Daily Mail, a British daily tabloid.
The prostitution allegations attracted little attention when they appeared in the Daily Caller. They were based on the claims of the tipster, who charged that Salomon Melgen, a Florida ophthalmologist and major contributor to Menendez, had repeatedly flown the senator to the Dominican Republic aboard his private jet for trysts with the women.
The story took on a new life, however, after the FBI raided Melgen’s medical practice in West Palm Beach in what is believed to be an investigation into fraudulent Medicare billing, and renewed attention was focused on the ties between Melgen and Menendez, his good friend.
The senator soon reimbursed Melgen $58,500 for two round-trip flights he had made aboard Melgen’s jet that are now the subject of an inquiry by the Senate Ethics Committee. But other questions were quickly raised as well, after it was reported that Menendez interceded with administration officials on behalf of a port security contract in the Dominican Republic, held by a Melgen company.
A federal grand jury in Florida is reportedly looking at whether Menendez improperly intervened in the health care fraud investigation, while the Los Angeles Times last week reported a second investigation looking into whether Menendez aided Melgen in his business dealings in return for political contributions.
The prostitution allegations began falling apart long before Monday. Reporters who traveled to the Dominican Republic could not verify the stories told by the women in the Daily Caller videos. And in affidavits filed last month, one of them, Nexis de los Santos Santana, said she was misled by Figueroa into framing Menendez.
Police said Monday that the women were told by Figueroa and another lawyer that they were working on a divorce case. They said Figueroa told the women to make false claims about having sex.
“At a supermarket complex in La Romana, (the women) claimed to have participated in parties and had sexual relations with two foreigners named Bob and doctor Salomon, for which they received 46,000 pesos,” the Dominican national police said in a statement, adding that it was still investigating Figueroa’s motives for orchestrating the video interviews.
The police said Figueroa and an unidentified “foreign-looking person” filmed the women in a supermarket complex in the city of La Romana, near the lush Dominican resort called Casa de Campo, where Melgen owns a villa that Menendez has visited. Afterward, de los Santos Santana and her friends, Adalgisa Reyes Cordero and Vanessa Maria Nuñez Alcantara, were each paid, police said.
Kirk Ogrosky, an attorney for Melgen, said the announcement by the Dominican national police was further evidence corroborating that the allegations were false and politically motivated.
“Dr. Melgen has acted appropriately at all times, and the individuals behind this campaign of lies should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” Ogrosky said.”
The Associated Press and Star-Ledger staff writer Matt Friedman contributed to this report.
Category: DR News |