Salomon Melgen says he and New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez are “like brothers” and speak every week.
In an interview with Bloomberg News, the Florida eye doctor and Menendez donor insisted that the relationship has never run afoul of the law, despite multiple investigations into the pair’s political relationship.
“I don’t have any business interests at all that have been helped by any politicians,” Melgen told Bloomberg.
And that may be true, but it’s not for a lack of trying.
Menendez, who chairs the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has intervened at least twice on his donor’s behalf.
The New York Times reported in January that Menendez encouraged the U.S. government to clear the way for a stalled port security contract Melgen has with the Dominican Republic, which is worth approximately $500 million. The Times also reported that Melgen’s 2006 negotiations to purchase the port security firm coincided with a push by Menendez to require screening of all cargo headed to the United States.
The Washington Post reported in February that Menendez has also intervened at least twice in a dispute between federal officials and Melgen after the government determined that the eye doctor had overbilled Medicare by $8.9 million.
Melgen told Bloomberg that he never asked Menendez to intervene directly in his Medicare case. He only wanted “a clarification of the policy,” which the senator sought, Melgen said. “That’s what I wanted the senator to intervene on, not in my case,” he said.
Politico revealed last week that Melgen’s company only recently filed the required paperwork showing that he paid a lawyer named Alan Reider to start lobbying the Senate all the way back in 2009 on “issues related to Medicare reimbursement,” despite previous claims by Melgen’s lawyers that he had never hired a lobbyist.
“The retroactive 2009 registration date places Reider’s initial lobbying activity in the same year that Menendez complained to the head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services that its $8.9 million ruling against Melgen was unfair,” Politico reported.
Menendez has consistently denied impropriety.
“Nobody has bought me, No. 1. Nobody. Never,” Menendez told Univision in early February. “In the 20 years that I have been in Congress, never has it been suggested that this could even be possible.”
Menendez recently reimbursed Melgen $58,500 for two 2010 flights on the doctor’s private jet. Menendez’s chief of staff, Dan O’Brien, told NBC News in January that he was “chalking [the failure to reimburse] up to an oversight.”
Melgen donated $700,000 last year to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s Majority PAC, which in turn spent $582,500 on Menendez’s re-election. Politico reported in March that Melgen has also flown Reid on his private jet, though that senator’s office says the flight was reimbursed.
Melgen told Bloomberg News that the all the press attention surrounding his relationship with Menendez and other lawmakers has hurt his reputation.
“They took away my dignity,” Melgen said. “They portrayed me as a greedy guy who was with politicians for the quid pro quo.”
Both Menendez and Melgen have regularly referred to their long term friendship when defending their behavior.
“Dr. Melgen has been a friend and political supporter of Senator Menendez for many years,” an aide told The New York Times in January.
“The senator and I have become like brothers, like friends,” Melgen told Bloomberg.
I talk to him weekly. I see him once a month. Not right now, since this whole thing has started. But we enjoy each other’s company,” he said. “He could do great things for this country, especially as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.”