- The Washington Times - Friday, March 6, 2015

The Justice Department is preparing to bring criminal corruption charges against New Jersey Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez, alleging that the congressman used his office to benefit the business of a donor and friend, reports said Friday.

The senator has been under investigation since at least 2013 over allegations that he helped a donor, Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen, secure contracts with the government of the Dominican Republic and protected that same donor during a U.S. investigation of Medicare fraud.

Mr. Menendez has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing. Reporters who called his Washington office Friday were told the senator’s spokespeople would return their calls later.

“As we have said before, we believe all of [the] senator’s actions have been appropriate and lawful and the facts will ultimately confirm that,” Tricia Enright, a spokeswoman for Mr. Menendez, told CNN. “Any actions taken by Senator Menendez or his office have been to appropriately address public policy issues and not for any other reason.”

The potential charges, first reported by CNN, would be the first time in 2015 the Justice Department has charged a sitting U.S. official. In December, Rep. Michael Grimm, New York Republican, pleaded guilty to filing a false tax return.

A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment and told The Washington Times that the agency was not in a position to confirm nor deny the CNN report.

The controversy has focused on the relationship between Mr. Menendez and Dr. Melgen. The senator came to his friend’s defense in 2013 following an FBI search of Dr. Melgen’s offices. A federal audit charged Dr. Melgen had overcharged the government for Medicare and Medicaid services, by some estimates for as much as $9 million.

Mr. Menendez also is alleged to have advocated on Dr. Melgen’s behalf during contract negotiations with the Dominican Republic to provide equipment for that nation’s ports.

In 2010, the senator flew to the Dominican Republic as Dr. Melgen’s guest. When knowledge of the flight became public, Mr. Menendez repaid nearly $58,000 for the trip, calling his failure to disclose it an oversight.

A review of public campaign records show that Dr. Melgen and his family have donated at least $33,000 to Mr. Menendez’s campaigns since 2004.

Phil Kerpen, president of conservative advocacy group American Commitment, called on the senator to resign.

“Bob Menendez is entitled to his day in court, which he will have,” Mr. Kerpen said. “But he must resign now so that New Jersey can have a senator and America a ranking member who can represent constituents and the national interest free of an ongoing prosecution.”

Mr. Menendez, a high-ranking Senate Democrat and former chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, still serves as the top Democrat on the committee, as well as serving on the Banking and Finance Committees. He was first elected to Congress in 1992 as a New Jersey representative and to the Senate in 2006.

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