Stringing up crime scene tape and using a locksmith, the FBI on Tuesday and Wednesday raided the West Palm Beach business of an eye doctor suspected of providing free trips and even underage Dominican Republic prostitutes to U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez — who has denied what he calls the “fallacious allegations.”
Agents hauled away boxes and bags of evidence from the medical-office complex of Dr. Salomon Melgen, a contributor to Menendez and other prominent politicians, to start hauling away potential evidence in several vans.
On Wednesday, the FBI agents were joined by an inspector from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, indicating the search-and-seizure raid has ties to a possible Medicare fraud inquiry. Melgen has also been the subject of a parallel federal investigation into his relationship with Menendez, D-N.J., who was first accused of improprieties in the conservative Daily Caller website.
“Dr. Melgen has been a friend and political supporter of Senator Menendez for many years,” Mendendez’s office said. “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.”
Melgen couldn’t be reached on his home, office or cell phones.
Melgen has been involved in a variety of lawsuits, as a plaintiff and defendant in Palm Beach County. One of his civil attorneys, Jack Scarola, said Melgen is “a man of great honesty, veracity’’ who follows the law.
Scarola represents Melgen in a years-long suit in which he lost $10 million as the victim of a Ponzi scheme.
Melgen has also had numerous tax issues.
Melgen has an outstanding IRS lien of $11.1 million for taxes owed from 2006 to 2009, according to records filed with the Palm Beach County recorder’s office. A previous IRS lien for $6.2 million was satisfied in 2011, records show. Another lien, of $1.3 million, was satisfied in December 2002, four months after it was placed.
Amid those tax issues, Melgen and his family have contributed at least $357,000 to candidates and committees since 1998, according to Florida and federal campaign records. Of that, the Melgens have contributed about 9 percent to Menendez’s federal campaigns.
Melgen also owns a private CL-600 Challenger plane through one of his West Palm Beach-based companies, records show, and frequently flies between South Florida and Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic, where he is from.
Menendez has flown on the plane at least once, when he was chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee from 2009 to 2011, when the Melgens contributed about $60,400 to the group.
Melgen was first linked to Menendez just before the November elections, when the Daily Caller website interviewed two alleged prostitutes who said they had relations with the New Jersey Democrat at Melgen’s Dominican Republic mansion in Casa de Campo.
After the election, the news died down.
But then, days before Menendez was about to start leading the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as chairman, reporters started receiving a 58-page dossier of emails between a Miami FBI agent and a tipster who claimed that some of the prostitutes had been underage.