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Menendez reimbursed political donor $58,500 for 2 trips to Dominican Republic

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By The Associated Press
Thursday, Jan. 31, 2013, 7:20 p.m.
 

WASHINGTON — Sen. Robert Menendez's office said he reimbursed a prominent Florida political donor $58,500 on Jan. 4 for the full cost of two of three trips Menendez took on the donor's plane to the Dominican Republic in 2010.

More details about the New Jersey senator's trips emerged as his office said unsubstantiated allegations that the senator engaged in sex with prostitutes in the Dominican Republic are false.

There had been no public disclosure of the two trips until now.

“The senator paid for the two trips out of his personal account and no reporting requirements apply,” Menendez spokeswoman Tricia Enright said.

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.

A third trip by Menendez aboard Melgen's plane — a campaign fundraising journey to the donor's residence in the Dominican Republic — took place in May 2010. That trip was reported to the Federal Election Commission as a $5,400 expenditure by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which Menendez chaired. The trip, for fundraising from the community of Americans in the region, took Menendez to Puerto Rico as well as the Dominican Republic, said Menendez's office. The $5,400 was paid to one of Melgen's companies, Vitreo Retinal Consultants.

Menendez categorized the other two trips as personal. The first was Aug. 6-9, 2010, a round trip from South Florida to the Dominican Republic. The second was Sept. 3-6, 2010, from New Jersey to the Dominican Republic and back.

Menendez could have invoked what is known as a “friendship exemption” regarding the two personal trips, which would have required the senator to report the travel to the Senate Ethics Committee as a gift. Instead, Menendez chose to reimburse the full cost of the two trips.

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