WASHINGTON – Sen. Robert Menendez’s office said Wednesday that he traveled three times on a plane owned by a prominent Florida political donor but that the trips were paid for and reported appropriately. At the same time, Menendez’s office said unsubstantiated allegations the senator engaged in sex with prostitutes in the Dominican Republic are false.
The FBI searched the West Palm Beach, Fla., office of the donor – eye doctor Salomon Melgen – on Tuesday night and early Wednesday, but it was unclear if the raid was related to Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat.
Records filed in Palm Beach County show an Internal Revenue Service lien against Melgen of more than $11.1 million for unpaid taxes from 2006 through 2009. Prior liens for taxes from 1998 to 2002 were subsequently withdrawn, records show.
The Daily Caller, a conservative website, reported shortly before the November election that Menendez traveled on Melgen’s private plane to the Dominican Republic to engage in sex with prostitutes.
Menendez’s office said that any accusations of engaging with prostitutes are manufactured by a politically motivated right-wing blog and are false.
At FBI headquarters in Washington, spokesman Jason Pack said the bureau cannot comment on the existence or status of an investigation. Justice Department spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler also declined to comment.
On Tuesday, Menendez became chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, succeeding Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass.
Menendez’s office said Melgen has been a friend and political supporter of the senator for many years and that the three trips that Menendez took have been paid for and reported appropriately.
Menendez’s office did not say whether the three trips were to the Dominican Republic or elsewhere. The statement did not say whether the trips were paid by Menendez personally.