A longtime friend and donor’s penchant for foreign models partially brought down Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), according to an indictment returned Wednesday against the senator.
Menendez was charged with 14 counts of federal corruption for allegedly leveraging his office to support Florida ophthalmologist Dr. Salomon Melgen’s personal and business interests.
In return, Melgen, who was also charged in the case, contributed more than $750,000 to entities supporting Menendez’s 2012 re-election effort, the indictment stated. Menendez was also accused of accepting free flights on private planes, use of a Caribbean villa, luxury hotel stays and golf outings from Melgen, according to the indictment.
Both men have previously denied any wrongdoing.
Federal prosecutors alleged that one of the ways Menendez repaid Melgen for those undisclosed gifts was by influencing immigration visa proceedings for the ophthalmologist’s young, foreign girlfriends.
Menendez allegedly helped Melgen secure visas for three of his girlfriends between 2006 and 2008, for reasons as varied as a medical evaluation for plastic surgery to attending graduate school. Menendez’s intervention actually reversed the US Embassy’s denial of a tourist visa to one of Melgen’s girlfriends whose application had been denied.
In October 2008, Melgen asked for Menendez’s assistance in securing tourist visas for his Dominican model girlfriend, 22, and her sister, 18, according to the indictment. Menendez’s office sent a letter of support from the senator on behalf of the sisters to Melgen’s personal assistant and son-in-law.
At one point, Melgen’s girlfriend requested a copy of that letter from the doctor by email:
Hello my love,
I write to remind you that you need to send me a copy of what Senator Bob Menendez’s office sent you, which I need for the embassy.
And also remember the bank thing please.
Thank you. A kiss.
The US Embassy in the Dominican Republic denied the visa requests soon after the women’s immigration interviews, citing their lack of children, cash and employment.
Menendez asked one of his staffers to contact higher officials after Melgen informed him of the development.
“Theu [sic] were denied their visa,” Menendez wrote, according to the indictment. “I would like to call Ambassador tomorrow and get a reconsideration or possibly our contact at State. Thanks.”
Asked by a staffer whether the office should immediately contact the ambassador, Menendez allegedly replied “Call Ambassador asap.”
The girlfriend and her sister were later granted a second interview, after which their visas were approved. Two Menendez staffers discussed the matter via their personal email accounts.
“2 people from the DR who wanted visas to visit Dr. Melgem [sic] GOT THEM,” one staffer wrote, according to the indictment.
“In my view, this is ONLY DUE to the fact that RM intervened. I’ve told RM,” the second staffer responded.
The indictment alleged Menendez also influenced visa proceedings for a Brazilian woman and a Ukrainian woman tied to Melgen.
The Brazilian national, described in the indictment as an actress, model and lawyer, had applied to graduate school at the University of Miami at Melgen’s urging.
In July 2008, a Menendez staffer emailed a secretary in the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs stating that the senator encouraged “careful consideration” of the visa application, according to the indictment. The Brazilian girlfriend’s visa was approved the same day she was interviewed and the secretary informed Menendez’s staffer that the woman had been a “perfect student visa case — no problems.”
Menendez’s staff also drafted a letter in February 2007 on behalf of a Ukrainian model living in Spain. That letter stated that the woman planned “to undergo medical evaluation for plastic surgery as well as to visit with [Melgen] in the U.S.,” according to the indictment.
Here’s the letter detailed in the indictment:
The woman was granted a visa a week later and dined with Melgen and Menendez at a restaurant in Miami’s Mandarin Hotel during her stay.
Catherine Thompson is a senior editor for Talking Points Memo in New York City. She came to the site in 2013 and reported on national affairs. Previously, she worked as a research assistant to investigative reporter Wayne Barrett. She can be reached at email@example.com.