New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez indicted on corruption charges
WASHINGTON (AP) Sen. Bob Menendez, the son of Cuban immigrants who rose to become one of the highest-ranking Hispanic members of Congress, was charged Wednesday with accepting nearly $1 million worth of gifts and travel from a longtime friend in exchange for a stream of political favors on the donor's behalf.
A federal grand jury indictment accuses the New Jersey Democrat of using the power of his Senate seat to benefit Dr. Salomon Melgen, a wealthy Florida eye doctor who prosecutors say provided the senator with luxury vacations, airline travel, golf trips and tens of thousands of dollars in contributions to a legal defense fund.
The indictment from a federal grand jury in Newark charged the senator with 14 counts, including bribery, conspiracy and false statements, over his ties to Melgen. Melgen also was charged in the case.
The indictment clouds the political future of the top Democrat and former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who has played a leading role on Capitol Hill on matters involving Iran's nuclear program and U.S. efforts to improve ties with Cuba.
Menendez, who has repeatedly asserted his innocence, was expected to make a statement later Wednesday in New Jersey. Melgen's attorney did not immediately return a call seek comment Wednesday,
The indictment from a grand jury in his home state was the latest development in a federal investigation that came into public view when federal authorities raided Melgen's medical offices in 2013. It depicts a relationship in which gifts such as round-trip flights to the Dominican Republican were quietly traded for favors such as political intervention in medical billing and contractual disputes.
Among the allegations is that Melgen provided Menendez with free trips to the Dominican Republican aboard his luxury jet and that the senator, between 2007 and 2012, never disclosed the gifts he received from the doctor.
In exchange for those and other gifts, prosecutors say, Menendez tried to influence immigration proceedings of Melgen's foreign girlfriends, sought to protect a lucrative contract Melgen held to provide cargo screening services to the Dominican Republic and intervening in a Medicare billing dispute involving millions of dollars.
Menendez has acknowledged taking actions that could benefit Melgen, among them contacting U.S. health agencies to ask about billing practices and policies. But the lawmaker has said he did nothing wrong and says he and Melgen have been friends for decades.
"We celebrated holidays together," he once told reporters. "We have been there for family weddings and sad times like funerals and have given each other birthday, holiday and wedding presents, just as friends do."
Melgen came under renewed scrutiny when government data last year showed he had received more in Medicare reimbursements in 2012 than any other doctor in the country.
According to the Senate Historian's Office, Menendez is the 12th senator to be indicted and the first since the late Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, was indicted in 2008 on charges of not reporting hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of home renovations. Stevens was convicted but the charges were later dismissed.
Menendez is also the second New Jersey senator to be indicted. Harrison Williams Jr., a Democrat, was indicted in 1980 on corruption charges and convicted of bribery and other counts the following year. Williams resigned before the Senate could vote on whether to expel him.
Menendez, 61, joined the Senate in 2006 after serving more than a decade in the House of Representatives.
A lawyer and former mayor of Union City, New Jersey, Menendez also served in the New Jersey General Assembly and state Senate.
Associated Press writers Sean Carlin in Newark and Alan Fram in Washington contributed to this report.