POLITICS

Senator Bob Menendez to face criminal corruption charges, report says

En esta foto del 25 de febrero de 2013, el senador Bob Menéndez vuelve al Capitolio en Washington. Un jurado investigador en Miami indaga en el papel de Menéndez para defender los intereses empresariales de un amigo que le ha hecho donaciones (AP Foto/J. Scott Applewhite, archivo)

En esta foto del 25 de febrero de 2013, el senador Bob Menéndez vuelve al Capitolio en Washington. Un jurado investigador en Miami indaga en el papel de Menéndez para defender los intereses empresariales de un amigo que le ha hecho donaciones (AP Foto/J. Scott Applewhite, archivo)  (AP)

The Justice Department is getting ready to file corruption charges against Sen. Robert Menendez later this month, CNN first reported Friday.

The charges stem from allegations that he did political favors for a Florida doctor, Dr. Salomon Melgen, an ophthalmologist who was a friend and campaign supporter. Questions about Menendez's ties to Melgen have dogged the senator for more than two years.

Attorney General Eric Holder declined to answer questions after an appearance with President Barack Obama at a black college in South Carolina.

"I can't comment on that," he said, according to the AP.

The charges maintain that the New Jersey Democrat pushed Melgen’s business interests while chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The senator and the doctor both have previously denied any wrongdoing.

On Friday, the senator’s Communications Director Tricia Enright released a statement that read in part:

"The Senator has counted Dr. Melgen as one of his closest personal friends for decades. The two have spent holidays together and have gone to each other's family funerals and weddings and have exchanged personal gifts. As has been reported, the start of this investigation is suspect. We know many false allegations have been made about this matter, allegations that were ultimately publicly discredited. We also know that the official investigation of this matter is ongoing, and therefore cannot address allegations being made anonymously."   

Published reports describe Melgen and his family as generous contributors to Menendez and committees he has been involved with.

CNN, quoting unnamed sources, said that federal prosecutors are under pressure to act soon because some allegations, which date back roughly two years, are subjected to a statute of limitations.

Menendez has called the allegations a “smear campaign.”

Some of the actions that investigators were looking at are plane trips that the senator took in 2010 as Melgen’s guest. The senator paid Melgen $58,000 for the plane trips three years later, after they had become public. He said his office had not reported the trips because of an “oversight.”

Menendez also allegedly helped defend Melgen against accusations by Medicare officials that he overbilled the program. Published reports say that the doctor was among the top recipients of Medicare reimbursements while he was also a major Democratic donor.

The Department of Justice is also investigating whether Sen. Menendez engaged in any wrongdoing when his office attempted to assist two fugitive bankers from Ecuador who were seeking to avoid extradition and remain living in the United States.

The bankers, brothers William and Roberto Isaias, now live in Florida and were sentenced in absentia on charges that they embezzled millions from their bank. 

Investigators are looking into whether Menendez personally reached out to a high-ranking immigration official in 2012 pressing for the Isaias brothers to be allowed to reside permanently in the United States and not be sent back to Ecuador.

Menendez, 61, is up for reelection in 2018. He currently holds a position on the Senate's Foreign Relations Committee.

The AP contributed to this report.

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