Senate Ethics Panel ‘Severely’ Admonishes Democrat Bob Menendez Over Gift Violations

Chuck Ross | Reporter

The Senate Ethics Committee offered a brutal rebuke of New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez on Thursday, accusing the Democrat of providing political favors for a friend in exchange for expensive gifts and vacations.

“The Committee concludes that your actions violated Senate Rules and related statutes, and reflected discredit upon the Senate,” reads a bi-partisan letter from the ethics panel’s six members.

The committee, with Georgia Sen. Johnny Isakson as chair, ordered Menendez to repay the fair market value of gifts he received from his friend, a Florida eye doctor, Salomon Melgen, and to amend his public financial disclosure reports.

“Finally, by this letter, you are hereby severely admonished,” the letter states.

Menendez was tried for bribery in 2017 in federal court over his relationship with Melgen. The lawmaker was indicted on April 1, 2015, on 14 counts of bribery and other charges. A mistrial was declared on Nov. 16, 2017, after a federal jury in New Jersey was unable to reach a verdict.

Melgen was sentenced to 17 years in prison in February in a $73 million Medicare fraud case. Melgen’s scheme involved convincing patients to undergo eye procedures they did not need.

The ethics panel began its investigation of Menendez in late-2012 but put that on hold during the Justice Department’s investigation and trial. The committee resumed its investigation after the mistrial.

“The Committee has found that over a six-year period, you knowingly and repeatedly accepted gifts of significant value from Dr. Melgen without obtaining required Committee approval, and that you failed to publicly disclose certain gifts as required by Senate Rule and federal law,” reads the Ethics Committee’s letter, which was signed by three Republicans and three Democrats.

From 2006 through 2013, Menendez accepted private and commercial flights from Melgen, a luxury hotel stay in Paris, and lodging during 19 trips to Melgen’s private villa in the Dominican Republic, the committee found.

“You did not pay fair market value for, or, where required, obtain necessary written approval from the Committee to accept these gifts,” the letter states.

Menendez also failed to list the gifts from Melgen on his public financial disclosure reports, as he was legally required to do.

“During the same time period in which you accepted these gifts, you used your position as a Member of the Senate to advance Dr. Melgen’s personal and business interests,” according to the letter.

Acting on Melgen’s request, Menendez intervened with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services regarding its finding Melgen overbilled Medicare by nearly $9 million, the committee noted.

“This intervention included persistent advocacy before multiple senior CMS officials over the course of three years, reaching, at its height, your meeting with the Secretary of Health and Human Services,” the letter states.

Menendez also helped Melgen in a contract dispute involving a port security company the doctor owned. Menendez met with senior official at the State Department to help Melgen’s company, ICSSI, with a contract dispute with the Dominican government.

Menendez threatened in that meeting to hold a public hearing and call the State Department to testify if the contract dispute was not resolved.

Menendez also asked U.S. Customs and Border Protection to delay a planned donation of scanning equipment to the Dominican government. The delay seemingly helped Melgen’s company profit by selling scanning services to the Dominicans.

Menendez’s assistance for Melgen did not stop there. He also helped foreign nationals obtain visas in order to visit Melgen.

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