WASHINGTON (CBSNewYork/AP) — A spokesman for U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said the senator hopes U.S. authorities join their Dominican counterparts in investigating the origin of reports he paid women in the Dominican Republic for sex.
Menendez spokeswoman Tricia Enright said the senator, has maintained all along such claims are false and part of a smear campaign.
A police spokesman in the Dominican Republic said Tuesday that three women were paid to falsely claim in videotaped interviews that they had sex for money with Menendez in that country.
Menendez’s press secretary Paul Brubaker said the information “proves what we have said all along: that the smear campaign against Senator Menendez is based on lies.”
“These lies were peddled to reporters by Republican operatives,” a statement from the Senator’s office read. “Making such intentionally false reports to a federal law enforcement agency is a criminal offense, and we hope the proper U.S. authorities will investigate this matter, as their Dominican counterparts are already doing.”
The women, whose claims generated media attention in the United States, were hired by a Dominican attorney to make the videotaped statements, spokesman Maximo Baez told reporters. Two of the women received about $425 and the other was paid about $300, he said.
Authorities are seeking to interrogate the attorney, Melanio Figueroa, about the payments and have not determined his motive or whether he was in turn paid by someone else to set up the interviews, Baez said.
The women have not been detained.
The police spokesman was making his most detailed comments to date on an investigation into the source of allegations that Menendez had sex with prostitutes, including two who were underage at the time, while in the Dominican Republic with his friend and campaign contributor, Dr. Salomon Melgen, a south Florida doctor, and with Vinicio Castillo Seman, an attorney whose family is politically prominent in the Dominican Republic. Castillo and Menendez have denied hiring prostitutes.
Castillo, a cousin of Melgen, requested the investigation into what he said were “false and defamatory” accusations.
Two of the videotaped interviews with the women were published on a conservative Washington website as Menendez ran for re-election in November. The allegations gained wider attention after federal agents searched Melgen’s office and the senator acknowledged that he failed to reimburse $58,000 for two flights on a private jet for trips to the Dominican Republic.
Jose Polanco, a prosecutor in the town of La Romana, said he interviewed all three women and also determined that none was underage at the time of the supposed encounters with the senator.
Separate to the prostitution allegations, the Washington Post reported last week that Menendez was under investigation by a Miami federal grand jury for his role in advocating for the business interests of a wealthy donor and friend.
The newspaper reported that as part of the probe, federal agents have questioned witnesses about the interactions between Menendez and Dr. Melgen.
Menendez has raised questions with U.S. officials about the Dominican Republic government’s failure to honor a port security contract involving Melgen, and he contacted U.S. health agencies to question their billing practices and policies amid a dispute between Melgen and federal authorities.
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