Menendez Advocated for Donor's Dominican Business

NJ Dem urged State, Commerce officials to enforce contract worth estimated $500M

February 1, 2013

Sen. Robert Menendez (D., N.J.) advocated to federal officials on behalf of a business owned by a South Florida donor currently under investigation for political corruption and fraud.

The New Jersey Democrat urged State and Commerce Department officials to act to enforce a contract worth between $500 million and $1 billion to a Dominican company owned by Dr. Salomon Melgen in a 2011 Senate hearing, the Miami Herald reports:

One company Menendez was apparently referring to: ICSSI, acquired the year before by Dr. Salomon Melgen, a Palm Beach County eye doctor and friend. The firm was seeking to enforce a contract it had won to X-ray Dominican Republic port cargo, that could be worth $500 million to $1 billion over two decades.

"You have another company that has American investors that ... has a contract actually given to it by the — ratified by the Dominican Congress — to do X-ray of all of the cargo that goes through the ports," Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey, said at the July 31 hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere. "And they don’t want to live by that contract either."

Menendez didn’t mention ICSSI by name in talking to Francisco J. Sánchez, the Commerce Department’s undersecretary for international trade and Matthew Rooney, the deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs for the State Department.

Menendez's relationship with Melgen has come under intense scrutiny this week after Melgen's South Florida office was raided by federal agents on dual investigations into political corruption and Medicare fraud.

Menendez disclosed earlier this week that he had reimbursed Melgen $58,500 for a series of trips the senator took aboard Melgen's corporate jet.

Melgen is a major Democratic donor; he and his family have contributed $200,000 to Democrats, including $33,000 to Menendez. The eye doctor himself donated $5,000 to Menendez and $10,000 to the New Jersey Democratic State Committee in the 2012 cycle. He counts among his friends other high-profile Democrats including former President Bill Clinton and outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe, and former Sen. Chris Dodd (D., Conn.), who currently serves as chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America, Inc.

Melgen's eye clinic also contributed at least $700,000 to Majority PAC, the Harry Reid-affiliated Super PAC.

A New Jersey county Republican organization made an ethics complaint late in 2012 about the relationship between Menendez and Melgen, as first reported by the Washington Free Beacon. Menendez's office said earlier this week that "we can assume" the Senate Ethics Committee is "looking at the allegation."