US Senator Robert Menendez is being investigated by a Miami federal grand jury for his role in advocating for the business interests of a wealthy donor and friend, the Washington Post reported on Thursday.
A story on the newspaper’s Web site said that as part of the probe US federal agents have questioned witnesses about the interactions between Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, and Florida ophthalmologist Salomon Melgen.
The Post said Melgen declined to say on Thursday whether he knew anything about the investigation, but he said any probe would find no wrongdoing.
Menendez and Melgen’s overlapping interests have repeatedly raised questions in recent months.
Menendez was compelled to reimburse US$58,000 for two flights to the Dominican Republic aboard Melgen’s private jet for personal trips in 2010 that he previously had failed to report, prompting scrutiny by the US Senate Ethics Committee.
Menendez also has acknowledged contacting US health agencies to question their billing practices and policies amid a dispute between Melgen and federal authorities. And Menendez was a key sponsor of a natural gas bill that could have aided a Melgen investment in a Florida company that markets a conversion system for natural gas truck engines.
Melgen has given more than US$14,000 directly to Menendez’s political campaigns since the late 1990s and, through his eye clinic, donated US$700,000 last year to a “super” political committee that supported Democratic Senate candidates. The committee, in turn, spent US$582,000 to back Menendez’s re-election effort.
The investigation began with two disparate issues, according to the Post.
First, auditors had been reviewing allegations that Melgen was fraudulently overbilling Medicare for treating his patients.
Then, in the fall, the FBI began looking into an anonymous tipster’s allegations that Melgen had arranged prostitutes for Menendez in the Dominican Republic.
Lawyers for Menendez and Melgen have said the allegations involving prostitutes were absurd. Menendez has said the allegations, which first surfaced during his re-election campaign last year, were part of a Republican smear campaign.