Marc Caputo: With sex, the FBI and shady characters, the Menendez saga is a Florida whodunit
02/03/2013 4:56 PM
02/08/2013 2:35 PM
Peter Williams could remain silent no longer.
“My duty as a US citizen obligates me to report what I consider to be a grave violation of the most fundamental codes of conduct that a politician of my country must follow. I have first hand information regarding the reiterated participation of Senator Robert Menendez in inappropriate sexual activities with young prostitutes while on vacations in the Dominican Republic.”
That’s the opening line of his email, written 1:02 p.m. Monday April 09, 2012. A torrent followed with increasingly wild, tough-to-prove allegations.
They all started to come to light Tuesday and Wednesday when the FBI raided the South Florida offices of Menendez’s friend and donor, Dr. Salomon Melgen, accused in the emails of flying the New Jersey Democrat to the Dominican Republic for the trysts.
Menendez called the claims “fallacious allegations.”
The story has all the makings of a Florida political whodunit: shady donors and operatives and politicians ducking for cover.
It all reads like a mix of true crime, pulp fiction, pornography and a textbook political dirty trick.
Peter Williams is likely a pseudonym. His email account seems dormant. He never delivered the promised testimony, witnesses, photos and videos.
His writing was descriptive, giving the first and last names of some hookers, their phone numbers and addresses. He described one’s “pointy nose” and “big and exciting mouth” who works for a pimp named “Chocolate.”
Another is called “The Honey.” A third: “Minerva.” Two, a Russian and Brazilian, live in Miami.
Miami Herald reporters this week hopped on the cold trail laid out months ago by Williams and determined that some of the women likely existed. An FBI agent said in an email last year that he could “confirm” some of Williams’ info.
But there’s no good evidence right now that the prostitutes were underage or consorted with Menendez. They can’t be found. Prostitution, incidentally, is legal in the Dominican Republic. Underage prostitution isn’t. And U.S. citizens who engage in child-prostitution overseas face long prison sentences here.
Whatever his name is, Williams was right about one thing: Menendez did initially fly for free on Melgen’s CL-600 Challenger jet.
Only after the FBI raid did Menendez publicly admit that he didn’t pay for two of the trips in 2010. So he reimbursed Melgen $58,500 thereby undercutting a looming Senate ethics investigation.
It’s probably one of the few times that money flowed from Menendez to Melgen.
Since 1992, Melgen, his family and his company Vitreo-Retinal Consultants have contributed $1.14 million to various political candidates and committees.
Menendez’s campaign efforts received 53 percent of that money directly or indirectly
Politicians often have donors and hangers-on like Melgen. Sometimes they get the pols in trouble. Consider convicted Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein of Fort Lauderdale or convicted fraudster Alan Mendelsohn of Hollywood, a top-notch ophthalmologist like Melgen.
When Melgen’s Vitreo-Retinal offices in West Palm Beach were raided, FBI agents were joined by inspectors with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which typically investigates Medicare fraud. That probe is parallel to the FBI investigation examining Melgen and Menendez’s ties.
Meanwhile, Melgen has IRS trouble, too. He has an outstanding IRS lien of $11.1 million for taxes owed from 2006 to 2009
The investigation into his ties with Menendez began in August, after the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington sent an agent the complaint that “Peter Williams” first sent to CREW months before.
CREW, ABC News the FBI had trouble getting Williams to be forthcoming. He refused to meet with them or speak on the phone.
CREW’s executive director, Melanie Sloan, said Williams was also suspicious because the self-described American citizen and father of two daughters claimed to know about the illicit activity since 2008. But he only complained in an election year when control of the Senate was up for grabs.
The conservative press has championed the mysterious Williams’ cause, noting Menendez has prior legal controversies. He was investigated at one point by former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie, now New Jersey’s Republican governor.
Menendez’s supporters think he’s the victim of dirty tricks from Republicans or the Castro government, opposed to the Cuban-American Democrat’s hardline stance on Cuba.
Melgen’s supporters suggest Williams is a miffed business competitor. And Melgen, according to a noteworthy record of civil litigation as a plaintiff and defendant, has enemies.
Melgen owns a new Hispanic-centric news website, VOXXI, that denounced the “fierce campaign against the dignity of Dr. Salomon Melgen” in an editorial over the weekend.
VOXXI has lavished praise on Menendez. It has also given the kindest of treatment to Menendez friend, Miami Republican Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart. He received $10,000 from Melgen in 2011.
When VOXXI launched a year ago this week, it wrote an article noting that Diaz-Balart introduced Menendez at the website’s launch event “as a ‘giant’ who rallies for the Hispanic community.”
What’s the nature of the congressman’s relationship with Melgen?
“The Congressman is unavailable for comment,” Diaz-Balart’s spokeswoman, Katrina Valdes said in an email. She said he has never travelled with Melgen.
Of the four Miami-area House members who received cash from Melgen, Diaz-Balart is the only one who won’t talk. The others Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Joe Garcia and Debbie Wasserman Schultz all described their contact with Melgen as limited.
Wasserman Schultz’s office disclosed that Melgen had asked her to get involved with a business issue of his but she declined. He soon stopped giving.
Menendez, however, did advocate for one of Melgen’s companies, ICSSI, which has a mammoth Dominican Republic port-security contract that’s essentially on hold. Menendez spoke about it during a July hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere. He mentioned it to the State Department, too, and the U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic has taken up the cause of the decade-old case.
Menendez and Melgen supporters say the deal, to X-ray cargo, will help stop the flow of illegal drugs.
And that brings yet another shadowy player into the story: drug lords, who are more than capable of drumming up a few hookers and getting someone to email allegations.
So add them to the cast of possible characters in the drama that includes a Senator, a high-flying donor, prostitutes, Republican dirty tricksters, Cuban spies, and federal agents.
For now, it certainly reads like a mystery novel.
But truth can be stranger than fiction.
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