WASHINGTON -- Salomon Melgen, the South Florida eye surgeon with close ties to New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, and subject of an FBI investigation, "acted appropriately at all times" the doctor's attorney said today.
"The government has not informed Dr. Melgen what concerns it may have," said an e-mailed statement from the lawyer, Dean Willbur Jr. "We are confident that Dr. Melgen has acted appropriately at all times. Additionally, any issues concerning Dr. Melgen and the IRS have been fully resolved and satisfied."
The Miami Herald reported earlier in the day that the FBI raid on Melgen's South Florida offices Tuesday focused on Medicare fraud, though it also wrote that there was an ongoing corruption investigation. The FBI has declined to comment on the reason for its raid, though Willbur told Newark, N.J. Star-Ledger reporters in Florida that he did not believe Menendez was the focus.
Menendez's office confirmed today that the Democratic Senator repaid Melgen's company $58,500 on Jan. 4 for two flights the doctor provided on his private plane in 2010. The two-year delay is the most concrete question right now facing Menendez -- though other allegations have grabbed more headlines.
Menendez repaid the amounts, from personal funds, shortly after some New Jersey Republicans filed an ethics complaint relating to his trips with Melgen.
A Menendez spokesman said the repayment resulted from an "extensive review" of the Senator's travel records following the complaint.
In Washington, Menendez came to the Senate floor for votes on the debt ceiling, voting to approve to increase the country’s borrowing limit. He sat at his desk, occasionally talking to colleagues, often alone. At one point he got up and sought out fellow New Jersey Democrat Frank Lautenberg.
On the final vote of the day, he quickly voted yes, tucked a black document-holder under one arm and left, eluding reporters.
Fellow Democrats came to his defense. Lautenberg told the Inquirer “I know Bob well and I’ll trust him to do the explaining.” He later told other reporters Menendez “has built an almost sterling, sterling reputation for a lot of years and our hope is that this, what we're hearing, is not as presented.” He added, “I think Bob will survive this.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) called Menendez “a friend” and “an outstanding Senator.”
Senate Democrats confirmed that Menendez was voted in as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday.
The most explosive allegation facing Menendez deals with unsubstantiated claims, most aggressively reported by the conservative Web site the Daily Caller, that Melgen arranged for trips to the Dominican Republic and encounters with prostitutes there. Menendez called any such accusation “false” on Wednesday and “manufactured by a politically-motivated right-wing blog.”
The claims are based largely on e-mails from a person named Peter Williams – the same name as a former disgraced New Jersey Senator – who claims to have knowledge of Menendez and Melgen’s trips. The source, though, would only communicate by e-mail with a Washington ethics group, ABC News and, according to e-mails posted anonymously online, the FBI. In each case he refused repeated requests to meet with people looking into his claims.
Eventually, that raised the suspicion of the ethics group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. After months of investigating the prostitution allegations, CREW’s executive director, Melanie Sloan, said she was “increasingly skeptical” of the claims.
Once the raid happened, though, the story that had been pushed hard by the Daily Caller broke into the mainstream media. It is still unclear if the FBI is investigating Williams’ allegations.