Federal prosecutors asserted in a new document filed Wednesday that Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez (NJ.) started taking bribes from a wealthy donor shortly after he entered the Senate in 2006.
Menendez's trial for bribery and corruption is set to begin next week, and Justice Department prosecutors laid out their case against the senator and his alleged co-conspirator, Dr. Salomon Melgen, who has been convicted but not yet sentenced for defrauding millions of dollars from Medicare in a separate case, Politico reported.
"The defendants' bribery scheme began shortly after Menendez's elevation to the Senate in 2006, when Melgen began a pattern of treating Menendez to weekend and weeklong getaways in the Dominican Republic that would continue for the next several years," prosecutors said in the filing.
"For the first four years of the corruption scheme, the all-expense paid trips Melgen provided often included free roundtrip flights on Melgen's private jet for Menendez and his various guests," prosecutors said. "When the doctor's private jet was unavailable, Melgen supplied equally luxurious travel for the senator."
Prosecutors alleged that, in one instance, Melgen bought Menendez and one other person a $20,000 one-way ticket from the Dominican Republican to Florida. Menendez later repaid Melgen $58,000 for the flight, only after the trip was reported in the news.
On another occasion in 2010, Menendez asked Melgen to pay for a pricey hotel room in Paris that cost more than $1,500 a night.
"In his email, Menendez specified that the rooms featured a ‘king bed, work area with internet, limestone bath with soaking tub and enclosed rain shower, views of courtyard or streets,' and he instructed Melgen: ‘You call American Express Rewards and they will book it for you. It would need to be in my name,'" the document said.
Melgen and his family also donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Menendez's reelection campaign, and in return, Menendez helped the doctor by taking official actions in office to benefit him, the prosecutors charged.
"Although Menendez did not pay Melgen back for the lavish gifts in money, he did pay him back using the currency of his Senate office to take official action to benefit the South Florida doctor," according to the document.