NEWARK, NJ–On April 1, New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez and his friend of over twenty years, a Florida optomologist named Salomon Melgen, were indicted on crimes including Conspiracy to Commit Bribery, Bribery, and False Statements.
The following day, both Menendez and Melgen entered not guilty pleas in federal court. Menendez was indicted on 14 counts, and Melgen on 13.
The indictment alleges that the donations, gifts, and vacations that Menendez received from Melgen transpired around the same time and, in some instances, occurred on the same day, that Menendez acted as an advocate for and intervened with Melgen’s dealings with the U.S. government.
In January 2013, around the same time Melgen and Menendez’s relationship began to come into question, FBI agents went to Melgen's office and seized more than 30 boxes of documents.
The 68-page indictment makes it very clear why the charges have been brought against the longtime friends.
Federal prosecutors are alleging that these exchanges are not simply small favors between friends, but rather a case of Melgen bribing Menendez to do his dirty work, and Menendez obliging.
All indictable offenses occurred between 2006 and 2013, according to the indictment.
A prosecutor presented the case in front of a grand jury of 16-23 people, and at least 12 people from the grand jury agreed that Menendez should face the charges in court.
The indictment does not mean that Menendez is a finding of guilty or not guilty, and does not determine any punishments. It simply means that the grand jury has decided that there is enough evidence to hold a trial if necessary.
Once someone is indicted they either enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. If a plea or not guilty is entered, there may be a plea deal or a trial.
There are three major allegations outlined in the indictment.
The first is that Menendez used his political position and connections to get visas for three of Melgen’s girlfriends, from the Dominican Republic, Brazil and the Ukraine respectively. Each was eventually approved to come to the U.S. during 2007 and 2008.
In one instance, one of Melgen’s girlfriends, who Menendez had allegedly met previously while vacationing with Melgen, and her sister had initially been denied visas.
According to the indictment, when their visas were denied, Menendez instructed one of his staffers to, “Call Ambassador asap.”
The indictment alleges that Menendez and his staff continuously intervened in the visa process.
The second major allegation is that Menendez advocated for Melgen in a 2012 contract dispute involving ICSSI, a company that Melgen owned that used X-rayed containers entering ports in the Dominican Republic.
It is alleged that Menendez met with U.S. officials to stop the U.S. Customs and Border Protection from donating similar cargo screening equipment which would have cost Melgen millions of dollars.
It is also alleged that on the same day the meeting between Menendez and the Assistant Secretary took place to discuss the ICSSI issue, Melgen and his family gave a total of $60,000 to the NJ Democratic State Committee Victory Federal Account and Menendez’s legal defense fund.
The third major allegation centers around a 2009 finding that Melgen had been overpaid $8.9 million by Medicare.
Allegedly, Melgen used single-doses of the drug Lucentis to treat up to three patients, but still charged Medicare for one dose per person.
From 2009-2012 Menendez and his staff called, emailed, and met with government officials to advocate on Melgen’s behalf regarding the Medicare billing dispute.
In 2011, Menendez arranged a meeting with Melgen and a Senator who chaired the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee so that Melgen could ask for help with the Medicare issue.
The issue is not only the alleged gifts, financial contributions, and abuse of power, but the fact that Menendez did not report the gifts and money that he received from Melgen.
From 2007-2012 Menendez filed a Financial Disclosure Report, which he is required to do yearly.
Menendez is required to list any reportable gifts that he received during the year.
He did not list any of the gifts that he received from Melgen but did sign the disclosures each year that, “I CERTIFY that statements I have made on this form and all attached schedules are true, complete, and correct to the best of my knowledge and belief.”
Cuban-American Menendez, who has recently been in headlines as a staunch opponent President Obama’s foreign relations policies, is being very vocal about his plans to fight the indictment.
“They "don't know the difference between friendship and corruption and have chosen to twist my duties as a senator and my friendship into something that is improper.”
“I’m not backing off,”
“I know I will be vindicated and we will win.”
Several Senators are already trying to distance themselves from the Menendez-Melgen scandal and have already given back or plan to give back money donated by Menendez during the years he took contributions from Melgen.
Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet is donating $10,000 to charity, the matching amount that he received as a contribution from Menendez a few years ago.
Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar is retuning a total of $18,000.00 in contributions to Melgen and Menendez’s Political Action Committee.
New Jersey residents seem to be leaning in the “innocent until proven guilty” direction regarding Menendez’s legal battle.
A Rutgers-Eagleton poll shows that 58% percent of New Jerseyans believe that Menendez should stay in office unless he is found guilty of the crimes he is charged with.
Only 34% believe that he should resign immediately.
Menendez also seems to have the NJ Democratic Congressional Delegation’s support.
Several members have already voiced their support for the embattled NJ Senator, including the state's other Senator, former Newark Mayor Cory Booker:
"Senator Menendez has never wavered in his commitment to the people of New Jersey. He’s been an invaluable resource and a mentor to me since I arrived in the Senate. Our system of justice is designed to be fair and impartial, and it presumes innocence before guilt. I won’t waiver in my commitment to stand alongside my senior Senator to serve our great state. Our nation and state face critical issues and I will continue to partner with Senator Menendez to take on the challenges before you."
For his part, New Brunswick's Congressman Frank Pallone came out in support of Menendez, though Mayor James Cahill and the City Council did not take a position on the indictments.
"The Mayor doesn't have a quote for press regarding Menendez's indictment at this time," said Jennifer Bradshaw, a spokesperson for Mayor Cahill.
"It's a matter for the courts to decide now," said his running mate Kevin Egan, the President of the City Council. "It will find it's way in a court of law."
"It's a shame that it's always happening here in New Jersey. I will say that," said Egan. "But that's all I can say about it at this time."
"As usual, I just go with due process," said Councilman John Anderson.