WASHINGTON – The U.S. Justice Department is preparing to file corruption charges against Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey for allegedly accepting gifts from a wealthy Dominican surgeon in exchange for political favors, CNN and the Washington Post reported.
Charges against the chairman of the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee and the highest-ranking Latino Democrat in Congress could be filed in the coming weeks, according to the media reports, which the Justice Department has not confirmed.
The investigation is centered on the 61-year-old Menendez’s relationship with Dr. Salomon Melgen, a Florida eye surgeon who is a close friend of Menendez’s and has made donations to the senator’s campaigns and committees he is associated with, CNN reported.
Prosecutors are looking at whether Menendez improperly intervened on behalf of Melgen’s ICSSI company with federal Medicare administrators who had accused the ophthalmologist of overbilling that government healthcare agency, according to CNN, which cited sources close to the investigation.
Melgen has been one of the biggest recipients of Medicare reimbursements in recent years, a time in which he also has been a major Democratic Party donor.
Menendez also is suspected of improperly trying to ensure the fulfillment of a lucrative port screening equipment contract that one of Melgen’s business concerns had with the Dominican Republic.
Investigators, in particular, are looking at whether the senator tried to thwart a potential U.S. government donation of port-screening equipment to the Caribbean country, according to people briefed on the probe.
They are also scrutinizing two trips Menendez made to the Dominican Republic in 2010 as Melgen’s guest. Three years later, after it came to light that Menendez had not covered the cost of the plane trips, the senator paid Melgen $58,500 for those travel expenses. He says his failure to disclose the flights was an oversight.
Menendez, a son of Cuban immigrants who has criticized the Obama administration for its decision to restore full diplomatic ties with the Communist-ruled island, vehemently denies the allegations.
“Let me be very clear, I have always conducted myself appropriately and in accordance with the law,” he told reporters Friday night.
“And I am not going anywhere.”