In a NJ courtroom the day after being federally indicted, Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) proclaimed his innocence by entering a plea of not guilty. The indictment against Menendez was handed down after being investigated for nearly three years by the Justice Department.
Immediately following his plea of not guilty, Menendez asserted his innocence during a press conference by stating, “These allegations are false and I am confident they will be proven false.” Menendez is charged with 14 counts of corruption, bribery, and fraud that are all based on the Senator’s relationship with longtime friend and political supporter Dr. Salmon Melgan.
The 68 page indictment alleges that Melgan offered and gave Menendez items of value and that Menendez not only accepted items of value he also solicited Melgan for them. Some items mentioned in the indictment include, but are not limited to, expensive golf outings, flight accommodations via private jet or first class commercial air fare, the use of Melgan’s private properties, exclusive resorts, and the beach house for vacationing purposes.
The indictment includes detailed accounts that allegedly occurred between 2006 and 2013, close to $1 million in campaign contributions and gifts were given to and accepted by Menendez from Melgan. The monetary contributions were sent from Melgan’s personal and business accounts and ranged from $5000 reaching amounts as much as $300,000. These contributions were distributed amongst several political funds that Menendez had during this period.
According to the indictment, in exchange for these gifts and contributions the senator used his “status to promote Melgan’s personal and business interests.” Alleging even further, the indictment states that the senator utilized his staff as well as his political position to advocate for Melgan during a Medicare over billing and payment dispute in the amount of $8.9 million.
Melgan allegedly requested and received from the Senator, assistance in obtaining Visa approvals for numerous girlfriends, as well as advancing his interests in a contract dispute with the Dominican Republic.
Finally, according to the indictment, Menendez failed to disclose, from 2006 through 2012, any reportable gifts received from Melgan on the Financial Disclosure Report, even though each year the Senator signed and certified this report as being true and correct. This report is required to be completed and signed by every United States Senator per the Ethics in Government Act of 1978.
Standing strong and steadfast in his claim of not being guilty, Menendez stated to reporters: “[I have] always conducted myself appropriately and in accordance with the law, and I am not going anywhere.”
Despite the influential position that Menendez held by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, it made sense that he voluntarily step down following the indictment. This change, as with any change, has made some in the Senate uneasy while current negotiations regarding the nuclear deal with Iran is ongoing. Set to take his place is Senator Ben Cardin (D- Md.).
Senator Cardin has yet to take a position or made a commitment to support either of the bills that are in front of the Senate at the present time. According to the Senator, he nevertheless remains optimistic about an agreement being made.
With no schedule for the vote to take place at the moment, Cardin does not have to determine which side he will support or endorse. Interestingly, it remains to be seen as to how much political influence he will have.
Menendez is not likely to resend his claim of not guilty anytime soon, Stating that the Justice Department’s investigation into his and Melgan’s 20 plus year friendship is truly politically motivated and based on smear and allegations.”
By Cher Bergeron
Photo By: SalFalko – Flicker License