Menendez Received Thousands of Dollars in Wedding Gifts From Scandal-Linked Friends

Senator got $1K in gifts from New Jersey U.S. attorney hopeful

Sen. Robert Menendez (D., N.J.) / Getty Images
May 20, 2021

Sen. Robert Menendez (D., N.J.) and his bride received $13,000 in cash and gifts at their wedding last year, including thousands from friends linked to the senator's various political scandals and an associate who may soon be tapped to serve as U.S. attorney for New Jersey.

Menendez and his wife, Nadine Arslanian, were given $9,000 in cash and $4,000 in gifts, according to filings submitted to the Senate Ethics Committee this week. The couple received $2,000 in cash and gifts from Donald Scarinci and Raúl Alarcón, longtime Menedez associates who testified for the defense at the senator's 2017 corruption trial. Menendez also received $1,000 in gifts from Philip Sellinger, a prominent Democratic fundraiser who is reported to be in the running for the U.S. attorney slot. The marriage is the second for the 67-year-old Menendez.

The disclosure is a reversal of sorts for Menendez, who was admonished by the Senate Ethics Committee in 2018 for failing to disclose tens of thousands of dollars worth of flights and vacations he received from more than a decade ago from Salomon Melgen, a Florida eye doctor convicted on charges that he defrauded Medicare. Menendez was indicted in 2015 on charges that he accepted bribes from Melgen in exchange for political favors. The Justice Department withdrew the case in January 2018 after the jury failed to reach a verdict at trial.

As New Jersey's senior senator, Menendez will likely have influence on President Biden's selection for the state's U.S. attorney. Sellinger, an attorney at the firm Greenberg Traurig, is one of a handful of top candidates for the position, according to reports. In 2012, Sellinger hosted Biden at his home for a Menendez fundraiser.

Sellinger, Scarinci, and Alarcón have featured to varying degrees in Menendez's numerous political scandals. Sellinger contributed $40,000 to Menendez's legal defense fund in his corruption case. Scarinci and Alarcón testified on the senator's behalf at the corruption trial and are linked to other Menendez scandals.

In 1999, Scarinci, a longtime New Jersey political operative, was recorded asking a New Jersey psychiatrist to do "a favor" for Menendez in order to gain "protection" for a $1 million government contract. In 2002, Menendez introduced legislation and lobbied the Federal Communications Commission to block a merger between two rivals of Alarcón's company, Spanish Broadcasting Systems. Menendez failed to disclose that he held tens of thousands of dollars in shares of Spanish Broadcasting and that Alarcón was a major campaign donor.

Scarinci gave $1,000 in cash to Menendez and Arslanian, according to Menendez's disclosure. Alarcón and Sellinger each gave $1,000 in gifts to the newlyweds.

Scarinci was a prominent figure at Menendez's trial. He testified that he solicited two donations of $300,000 from Melgen to the Senate Majority PAC in June and October 2012, which were central to the bribery charges against Menendez. He also said that he met with Melgen alongside Alarcón, who contributed $100,000 to the PAC, which was overseen at the time by then-Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.).

In August 2012, Menendez and Reid arranged to meet with then-Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius to discuss a Medicare billing policy that had cost Melgen millions of dollars in revenue.

Scarinci was not accused of any wrongdoing. The defense used him to testify that he sought the donations from Melgen on his own accord, without influence from Menendez. Prosecutors tried unsuccessfully to introduce evidence that showed Scarinci had worked for years as a middleman for Menendez.

The judge in the case declined the government's request to introduce an audio recording from 1999 in which Scarinci told New Jersey psychiatrist Oscar Sandoval that Menendez wanted him to hire another doctor, Vicente Ruiz, as a "favor." Sandoval released a tape of the conversation in 2006. He said he believed that Scarinci was threatening him to comply with Menendez's request in order to maintain a $1 million government contract.

The Menendez campaign distanced itself from Scarinci when the tape surfaced in 2006, saying that Scarinci was not acting at Menendez's behest. But Scarinci was heard on the tape saying that he intervened at Menendez’s request.

"The only reason I stuck my nose in this Ruiz thing is because Menendez asked me," Scarinci said on the tape, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Menendez's relationship with Alarcón made national news in 2013. As a member of the House a decade earlier, Menendez gave congressional testimony and proposed legislation to block a merger between Univision and the Hispanic Broadcasting Corporation. Alarcón opposed the merger, saying it would be the "last nail in the coffin" for Hispanic media ownership.

Menendez failed to disclose that he owned between $15,000 and $50,000 worth of shares in Spanish Broadcasting System at the time of his testimony in 2003. The Alarcón family had also donated tens of thousands of dollars to Menendez's congressional campaign.

None of the Menendez wedding guests responded to requests for comment. Menendez's office did not respond to a request for comment.