BOOK EXCERPT: Bob Menendez ran political machine in New Jersey’s corruption ‘ground zero’

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“Menendez is the boss in Hudson County, which is ground zero for the state’s corruption problem.”

That’s how New Jersey Star-Ledger editorial board member Tom Moran described then-Congressman Bob Menendez in November 2005, according to a biography of Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie published last year.

In “Chris Christie: The Inside Story of His Rise to Power,” Bob Ingle and Michael Symons devote eight pages to then-U.S. Attorney Christie’ early political squabbles with the man who would later become the junior senator from New Jersey.

Through the courtesy of St. Martin’s Press, The Daily Caller is republishing those pages.

Two months before Menendez’s first Senate election, the authors write, “Christie’s office launched an investigation of a nonprofit organization that rented property from Menendez.”

Menendez collected more than $300,000 in rent from the nonprofit and, while a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, helped the agency for which he was landlord get federal grants. Employees of the nonprofit, the North Hudson Community Action Corp., contributed $33,450 to Menendez campaigns. It also named him its ‘man of the year’ in 2001 and named the lobby at its headquarters the ‘Congressman Robert Menendez Pavilion.’ Its lease stated the agency’s ability to pay rent was dependent on the agency getting certain federal or state funding.

Although the Center for Public Integrity’s political editor called the arrangement a “conflict of interest,” a five-year investigation yielded no criminal charges after Christie became governor and another federal prosecutor closed the case.

Menendez, now with another Senate election under his belt, faces a new set of ethics charges and an FBI investigation stemming from favors he allegedly did for a major donor, Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen. Menendez has admitted accepting travel to the Dominican Republic on Melgen’s private jet twice in 2010. While the senator wrote a nearly $60,000 check to reimburse him, that payment came nearly three years later.

More serious is Menendez’s intervention on Melgen’s behalf with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

The federal government is seeking repayment of $8.9 million that it says the doctor overbilled the Treasury for ocular injections. The FBI raided his flagship Florida clinic in late January.

And Melgen — who along with his family members has donated more than $1 million to political campaigns run by or benefiting Menendez — seeks U.S. government pressure on the Dominican Republic to enforce a languishing port security contract with a company he owns. That company stands to earn $500 million over several years providing x-ray equipment that can see inside large cargo containers.

Menendez, now chairman of the powerful Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, has reportedly leaned on federal government officials to demand action from the Dominican government, which has refused to honor the contract.

The senator has staked out a position that he has done nothing wrong or unethical, including after The Daily Caller first published allegations that he slept with prostitutes, including some allegedly underage Dominican girls provided by Melgen.

Menendez appeared at one point last month in a majority-black church in Trenton, N.J., saying that his Hispanic ethnicity, in part, led to the barrage of complaints against his character.

“I have felt the sting of discrimination,” he told approximately 300 worshipers, according to the Bergen Record. ”It has never been easy.” (RELATED: Menendez plays race card, blames conservatives for scandals)

Menendez has at times traded on his folk-hero status on the political left as a refugee whose parents escaped communist Cuba. But in “Chris Christie,” Ingle and Symons tell a different story.

“He said his parents fled tyranny in Cuba,” they begin. “Star-Ledger columnist Paul Mulshine tried to get the full story but wrote he couldn’t get a straight answer.”

Mulshine wrote that “Menendez was born on Jan. 1, 1954, exactly five years to the day before Fidel Castro came to power. By timing of his birth, it’s possible they left Cuba during the regime of Fulgencio Batista. One problem: Batista was a right-winger. You don’t make points with the Cuban-American community by railing against right-wingers.”

“A July 2006 Star-Ledger story,” the authors continue, “said Menendez’s parents left under Batista, ‘seeking economic and political freedom.’ Other bios only said his parents were immigrants.”

Mulshine also pointed out in a 2006 column that Menendez himself was born in New York City, placing his parents in the Big Apple years before Castro became Castro. “So whatever tyranny they were fleeing,” he wrote, “was not the same one the great mass of Cuban-Americans fled.”

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Read the excerpt from “Chris Christie: The Inside Story of His Rise to Power: