Updated Wednesday, January 30, 2013 at 08:16 PM
WASHINGTON — Sen. Robert Menendez’s office said Wednesday that he traveled three times on a plane owned by a prominent Florida political donor but that the trips were paid for and reported appropriately. At the same time, Menendez’s office said unsubstantiated accusations that the senator engaged in sex with prostitutes in the Dominican Republic are false.
The FBI searched the West Palm Beach, Fla., office of the donor — eye doctor Salomon Melgen — on Tuesday night and early Wednesday, but it was unclear if the raid was related to Menendez, D-N.J.
Records filed in Palm Beach County show an IRS lien against Melgen of more than $11.1 million for unpaid taxes from 2006 through 2009. Prior liens for taxes from 1998 to 2002 were subsequently withdrawn, records show.
The Daily Caller, a conservative website, reported shortly before the November election that Menendez traveled on Melgen’s private plane to the Dominican Republic to engage in sex with prostitutes.
Menendez’s office said any accusations of engaging with prostitutes “are manufactured by a politically motivated right-wing blog and are false.”
At FBI headquarters in Washington, spokesman Jason Pack said the bureau “cannot comment on the existence or status of an investigation.” Justice Department spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler also declined to comment.
On Tuesday, Menendez became chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, succeeding Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass.
Menendez’s office said Melgen has been a friend and political supporter of the senator for many years and the three trips that Menendez took have been “paid for and reported appropriately.”
Menendez’s office did not say whether the three trips were to the Dominican Republic or elsewhere. The statement did not say whether the trips were paid by Menendez personally or by his senatorial or his campaign accounts, nor did it specify how they were reported.
If Menendez did not pay for the trips, he would have to report them on annual financial-disclosure forms as gifts. If he paid for the trips from his Senate office account, he would have to report them on Senate office forms. And if he used campaign funds, he would have had to report the expense on Federal Election Commission (FEC) forms.
A search of six years of office- and travel-related expenses for Menendez’s U.S. Senate office found no reports reflecting payments to Melgen or trips aboard Melgen’s plane. In addition, no apparent reimbursement to Melgen was found in more than six years’ worth of campaign expenses on file with the FEC.
Melgen is involved in numerous businesses, all sharing the same address in West Palm Beach, according to records filed with the Department of State in Florida.
Late Tuesday and early Wednesday, FBI agents were seen inside the West Palm Beach building, walking its halls and standing beside shelves full of files.
The Daily Caller began publishing stories about Menendez and Melgen on Nov. 1, when it reported that two women from the Dominican Republic said Menendez paid them for sex earlier in 2012. Prostitution is legal in the Caribbean nation.
Melgen is listed as having an ownership interest in DRM Med Assist, which Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) records show is the owner of a CL-600 Challenger plane. Flight records for the aircraft were not immediately available.
Melgen, a registered Democrat, has made $193,350 in political contributions since 1998, including $14,200 to Menendez, according to FEC records. Menendez was chairman of the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee, which raises money for Democratic Senate candidates, from 2009-11.
Menendez, a lawyer, is a former mayor of Union City, N.J., and served in the New Jersey state General Assembly and the New Jersey state Senate. He is divorced and has two children.
Melgen, 58, is a native of the Dominican Republic, where he earned his medical degree from the Universidad Nacional Pedro Henríquez Ureña in 1978. He has lived in the U.S. since at least 1980, holding an internship, residency and fellowship at hospitals in Connecticut, Missouri and Massachusetts, according to records filed with the Florida Department of Health.
Calls to Melgen’s home in North Palm Beach went unanswered.
The day in D.C.
Senate farewell: Secretary of State-designate John Kerry bid farewell to the Senate after 28 years, with a plea for comity and cooperation. “The political process works only when leaders are willing to listen,” Kerry told colleagues in his valedictory speech Wednesday. More than a dozen Democrats and a few Republicans listened as Kerry spoke for close to an hour. The Senate on Tuesday confirmed Kerry for the nation’s top diplomatic job, succeeding Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Kerry said he was “closing a chapter, not the final one.”
Kerry replacement: Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick named William “Mo” Cowan, his former chief of staff, to temporarily fill the Senate seat being vacated by John Kerry, and called a special election for June 25 for voters to choose a permanent replacement for the incoming secretary of state. Patrick, a Democrat, chose Cowan, who also served as his chief legal counsel, over two more familiar names: former Rep. Barney Frank and Victoria Kennedy, the widow of Sen. Edward Kennedy. Cowan will briefly be the Senate’s second African-American member, joining another appointee, Republican Tim Scott of South Carolina.
Justice resignation: Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer, who boosted white-collar prosecutions and oversaw the investigation into the 2010 Gulf Coast oil spill, said he will resign as one of the longest-serving chiefs of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. His resignation will be effective March 1.
Seattle Times news services
FILE - In this Jan. 28, 2013 file photo, Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J. speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington. Menendez's office says he traveled on a plane owned by a Florida physician who is a friend and political donor, but denied that the senator had engaged with prostitutes in the Dominican Republic. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)