WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (CBSNewYork) — Accused of being part of a prostitution scandal, N.J. Sen. Bob Menendez issued a strong denial on Wednesday.
The story broke just before Menendez was re-elected to the Senate in November.
A conservative website — The Daily Caller — posted interviews with two prostitutes who claim Menendez paid them for sex in the Dominican Republic. Prostitution is legal there and the story didn’t gain much traction, CBS 2’s Tony Aiello reported.
But then last week an anonymous tipster claimed there were underage prostitutes involved — a potential violation of U.S. law. The tipster released extensive communications with the FBI, including e-mails from an agent, indicating the feds wanted to interview any potential victims.
The Miami Herald reported that sources confirmed the e-mails to be authentic.
On Wednesday morning, the FBI raided the office of a Menendez friend and donor, Dr. Salomon Melgen, who was named by the tipster as the man who flew Menendez to the Dominican Republic and arranged prostitutes for the senator. An FBI official told CBS News that a Department of Health and Human Services investigative team was on site and that its presence could be an indication that there is a Medicare fraud aspect to the investigation.
Melgen and his family have contributed nearly $400,000 to candidates and committees since 1998, with about 9 percent of that going to Menendez’s federal campaigns, The Miami Herald reported.
After the raid, Menendez’s office issued the following statement: “Dr. Melgen has been a friend and political supporter of Sen. Menendez for many years. 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.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid also attacked The Daily Caller.
“I always consider the source, and all anyone has to do is consider the source where this comes from,” said Reid, a Democrat from Nevada.
A watchdog group that referred the case to the FBI said it is concerned because the Menendez “tipster” refused to talk on the phone, or meet in person.
On Wednesday, Sen. Menendez’s constituents reacted to the bombshell allegations.
“It’s not a surprise, you know, a lot of politicians have been caught out there,” one man said.
“I think [with] anyone in elected office you can never really be surprised because they don’t seem to have the best moral codes,” another man said.
“If there’s enough things pointing at it, more than likely some of it is true. There has to be some truth to it for there to be some speculation,” one woman said.
Menendez is no stranger to controversy.
In December, it was revealed that the senator employed an unpaid intern who turned out to be an illegal immigrant and sex offender, CBS 2’s Alice Gainer reported.
The FBI had no comment.
Are you shocked by the allegations? Do you think it’s for real or is a political hatchet job? Tell us in our comments section below.