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Senator linked to tax delinquent

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Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

By Gannett News Service
Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2013, 7:16 p.m.
 

WASHINGTON — Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey denied on Wednesday that he accepted free plane trips and contact with prostitutes from a Florida eye doctor whose offices were raided by federal agents on Tuesday night.

The raid, reported by The Miami Herald, targeted Dr. Salomon Melgen, described by the paper as a prominent campaign donor to Menendez and other Democrats. Melgen owes $11.1 million in back taxes from 2006 through 2009, the Herald said. Prior liens for taxes from 1998 to 2002 were withdrawn, records show.

The conservative Daily Caller news website quotes anonymous sources who allege Melgen provided Menendez with prostitutes — some of them underage — at his luxury home at the Casa de Campo resort in the Dominican Republic.

Menendez's office issued a statement denying the allegations.

“Dr. Melgen has been a friend and political supporter of Senator Menendez for many years,” the statement said. “Senator Menendez has traveled on Dr. Melgen's plane on three occasions, all of which have been paid for and reported appropriately. Any allegations of engaging with prostitutes are manufactured by a politically motivated right-wing blog and are false.”

FBI Special Agent James Marshall confirmed that “we are conducting law enforcement activity in the general vicinity of 2521 Metrocentre Blvd.,” the location of one of Melgen's offices in West Palm Beach, Fla. He declined to comment further.

According to the Herald story, the FBI investigation is believed to focus on Melgen's finances and allegations that he provided Menendez with free trips and prostitutes. Prostitution is legal in the Dominican Republic.

A reporter for the Daily Caller asked Menendez about the allegations on Monday as a Gannett Washington Bureau reporter was interviewing the senator about an unrelated topic.

“I'm not going to respond to the fallacious allegations of your story,” Menendez said.

The Daily Caller published a story about the allegations last fall, prompting Samuel D. Thompson, chairman of the Middlesex County, N.J. Republican Organization and a New Jersey state senator, to ask the Senate Select Committee on Ethics on Nov. 3 to investigate the trips.

It's unclear if the ethics committee, which does not comment on current investigations, is looking into the allegations.

The allegations appear to have surfaced in April, when a tipster, Peter Williams, approached the Washington-based watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics.

CREW executive director Melanie Sloan said the group exchanged emails with Williams for several months in an attempt to confirm the allegations but gave up when Williams refused to speak with the group by phone.

CREW forwarded the emails in July to the FBI, other Justice Department officials and ABC News, Sloan said.

“I feel like we did the right thing by sending this to the FBI but I am worried that someone may have been using us to smear a politician,” Sloan said.

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