On November 1, the Daily Caller published claims that Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) slept with underage prostitutes in the Dominican Republic in the spring of 2012, and yet he has had a successful few months, touring the Jersey Shore with President Obama and Governor Christie after Hurricane Sandy, winning reelection, and spearheading immigration reform in the Senate as a leading Hispanic voice. Nevertheless, the Senate Ethics Committee recently joined the FBI to investigate these claims.
According to the Daily Caller piece, the two women said they met Menendez around Easter at Casa de Campo, a 7,000-acre resort in the Dominican Republic owned by West Palm Beach, Fla. ophthalmologist Dr. Salomon Melgen. The women, who asked for their identities to remain private, recognized a photograph of Menendez as the man they had had sexual relations with in the spring. Brought to the resort under the pretense that they would be paid for sex, the women claimed that Menendez agreed to pay them $500, although ultimately they each only received $100.
The FBI raided Melgen’s West Palm Beach office on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, though two FBI sources say that the bureau’s inquiry is now based in New Jersey, suggesting that the investigation’s focus has shifted toward Menendez. Melgen has already been involved in his fair share of lawsuits; in one he lost $10 million as the victim of a Ponzi scheme, while another involved an outstanding lien by the IRS of $11.1 million for taxes he owed from 2006 to 2009.
The Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) began looking into claims that Menendez had sex with prostitutes in the Dominican Republic — where prostitution is legal — in early 2012. Although the prostitution allegations broke right before November’s election, Menendez easily secured his reelection, with 58% of the vote. The news seemed to have died down after the election until reporters received 58 pages-worth of email correspondence between Regino Chavez, a Miami FBI agent, and a tipster who alleged that several of the prostitutes in the Dominican Republic had been underage. Although the tipster has refused to meet or speak by phone to Chavez (or CREW, who had initially referred the case to the FBI), Chavez wrote to the tipster that the FBI has been able to confirm that much of the information is accurate.
Menendez has denied the “fallacious allegations,” and Democrats have characterized the reports as the product of a right-wing smear campaign against both Menendez and Melgen.
Despite the tawdry allegations, Politico anticipates Menendez will weather the storm for several reasons: New Jersey has a colorful history of political sex scandals, he has the advantage of being in office for another six years, and he has the support of top Democratic senators, such as Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.).
However, if the prostitutes do turn out to be underage, then the pressure might force Menendez to step down. Most recently, Menendez’s aides refused to comment on whether the senator has hired a defense attorney, though Democratic lawyer Marc Elias has been advising the senator on ethical issues.