TRENTON, N.J. – A psychiatrist who worked as an FBI informant in a criminal investigation of several northern New Jersey politicians has linked Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez to a scheme to manipulate government contracts, several published reports said Thursday.
In court papers filed in New Jersey in March, Oscar Sandoval said he was pressured in 1999 to hire a doctor Menendez preferred or he would risk losing $1 million in government contracts. Sandoval taped the 20-minute telephone call with Donald Scarinci, a longtime friend of Menendez who is also a powerful lawyer and has been a fundraiser for Menendez's campaign.
Scarinci allegedly told Sandoval that Menendez would consider it "a favor" if the doctor, Vicente Ruiz, was hired, adding that Ruiz would offer him "protection." If not, Sandoval would risk losing psychiatric-services contracts at various facilities, including the Hudson County Jail.
If he did not hire Ruiz, Scarinci allegedly said "the law of the jungle" would be put into effect. Sandoval hired Ruiz.
Scarinci did not immediately return a call for comment but in a statement said the tape has long been part of a civil lawsuit brought by Hudson County to retrieve millions of dollars from Sandoval.
"I will clearly state that none of my dealings with Dr. Sandoval were either directed or requested by Bob Menendez," Scarinci said in the statement.
The tape was obtained by The Philadelphia Inquirer and a transcript of it was obtained by The Star-Ledger of Newark, those newspapers reported.
Menendez campaign spokesman Matthew Miller said if the tape is accurate, Scarinci was using Menendez's name without his authorization or knowledge. He told The Star-Ledger for Thursday's newspapers that the campaign has cut its contact with Scarinci.
Republican Senate candidate Tom Kean Jr. has repeatedly attacked Menendez's ethics during the campaign, attempting to link him to a host of scandals that have brought down other Hudson County officials. The U.S. attorney's office is looking into a lease agreement Menendez had with a nonprofit organization to which he rented a house and for which he helped obtain funds. Menendez has said he has never committed any wrongdoing.
Sandoval was not immediately able to be reached for comment Thursday. He worked as an undercover FBI agent from 1999 to 2001.