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Menendez: Allegations about prostitutes 'smears'

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By Gannett News Service
Monday, Feb. 4, 2013, 9:24 p.m.

WASHINGTON — Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey said on Monday that allegations that he engaged the services of underage prostitutes in the Dominican Republic are “smears.”

Menendez spoke to reporters for the first time about the allegations. They include reports that he traveled to the Dominican Republic for free on a plane owned by a Florida eye doctor who's a campaign donor. The doctor's West Palm Beach, Fla., office was raided by the FBI last week. Menendez used $58,500 of his own money on Jan. 4 to reimburse the doctor, Salomon Melgen, for two plane trips taken in 2010.

“This fell through the cracks. It was a mistake,” Menendez said of why he didn't pay for the trips earlier. “It was a mistake that, when it got brought to my attention and I reviewed it, I ultimately made the decision to pay for it.”

The conservative Daily Caller website, founded by Tucker Carlson, a veteran journalist, and Neil Patel, former chief policy advisor to Vice President Dick Cheney, first reported the flights in the fall, tying them to accusations of underage prostitution in the Dominican Republic, where Melgen owns a home.

The website interviewed two women, purported prostitutes who allegedly had relations with Menendez. In a video posted on the site, their faces were blurred and they spoke through a translator.

On Monday, Menendez called the prostitution allegations “smears that right-wing blogs have been pushing since the election.” They are “totally unsubstantiated.”

The Spanish-language news station Univision interviewed one of the women, who sobbed on camera and denied the allegations as her family called for an investigation.

Menendez declined to answer questions about whether he would resign.

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