Embattled Democratic New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez said through a spokesman Wednesday that trips he took on the private jet of a major political donor “have been paid for and reported appropriately.”
But that may not have been accurate until shortly before the statement went out to media: WNBC-TV4 in New York City reported Wednesday that Menendez recently wrote a $58,500 check to the jet’s owner, Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen.
“Senator Menendez has traveled on Dr. Melgen’s plane on three occasions, all of which have been paid for and reported appropriately,” the statement said.
Menendez’s chief of staff, Dan O’Brien, told NBC that it took the senator three years to pay his private airfare because of an office mistake.
“This was sloppy,” O’Brien conceded about two 2010 flights. “I’m chalking it up to an oversight.”
“The senator paid for the two trips out of his personal account and no reporting requirements apply,” Menendez spokeswoman Tricia Enright told The Associated Press in explaining why there was no public disclosure.
Allegations of soliciting prostitution have swirled around the senator for months. At least four published accounts from women from the Dominican Republic indicate that Menendez paid them for sex. One said she was under 18 years of age at the time. (RELATED VIDEO: Women: Sen. Bob Menendez paid us for sex in the Dominican Republic)
The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Melgen and his family members have contributed more than $33,000 to Menendez’s various political campaigns since 1990 and another $125,400 to campaign arms of the Democratic Party. That includes $60,400 in 2009 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which Menendez then chaired.
O’Brien also confirmed that Menendez has visited Melgen at his home in the Dominican Republic “about twice a year.”
That home, in the luxurious Casa de Campo resort community, is where prostitutes allege Melgen and Menendez have participated in parties featuring drinking and sex with call girls.
Prostitution is legal in the Dominican Republic, but paying prostitutes who are under 18 years of age is a federal crime for U.S. citizens, regardless of where in the world it occurs.
On Tuesday night, the FBI raided Melgen’s flagship eye clinic in West Palm Beach, Fla., carting away evidence in what an FBI source told The Daily Caller was a case connected to Menendez. (RELATED: FBI raids clinic of donor linked to Menendez prostitution scandal)
O’Brien said Menendez typically takes commercial flights when he visits Melgen, and pays for them himself.
The $58,500 check the senator wrote to Melgen covers two trips to the Dominican Republic, in August and September 2010, O’Brien said.
Menendez denied Wednesday that he has participated in any prostitution-related activities. In one purported testimonial the liberal campaign group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington handed over to the FBI in 2012, a woman claiming to have been a Dominican prostitute claimed Menendez “likes the youngest and newest girls” Melgen procures, usually through a pimp. (RELATED: Dominican prostitute says Menendez “likes the youngest and newest girls”)
“In the beginning he seemed so serious, because he never spoke to anyone,” she said of Menendez, according to and email translation prepared for TheDC by a native Spanish speaker, “but he is just like the others and has just about the same tastes as the doctor, very refined.”
“I think they were taking us more often to get us checked [medically] because of him.”