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Dominican lawyer defends Melgen, Menendez

Prominent Dominican lawyer Vinicio Castillo on Monday said allegations that linked U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez to sex parties with prostitutes in the Dominican Republic were part of a “dirty campaign” aimed at discrediting his cousin, a Florida eye doctor who has a stalled multimillion-dollar contract for security at Dominican ports.

Castillo said Monday he will formally request Dominican authorities open an investigation into the source of allegations that claimed Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, and Florida ophthalmologist Salomon Melgen had sex parties with prostitutes, including some that were underage.

Those allegations first surfaced last year on a conservative U.S. website. The scandal gained prominence last month when the FBI raided Melgen’s South Florida offices, and Menendez’s office said he had repaid the doctor $58,000 for trips to the Dominican Republic on his private jet. The FBI is investigating the doctor and his relationship with Menendez, including their trips together.

The source of the allegations, who used the e-mail handle Peter Williams, has not come forward; neither have the prostitutes who provided videotaped interviews for the website.

Castillo, who was also named by the tipster, said his reputation has been damaged.

The Dominican National Police’s High-Tech Crimes Division “should ask for and receive help from the FBI and DEA, to establish who … put together false testimonies and documents fabricated to morally assassinate Senator Menendez” and Melgen, Castillo said, reading from a prepared statement at a press conference in his family’s Santo Domingo law offices.

Castillo called the allegations part of a “diabolical plot” orchestrated to discredit Melgen, who owns a company with a lucrative contract with the Dominican government to provide X-ray machines at ports. The machines would be used to scan shipping containers to look for contraband and illegal drugs.

The contract was originally signed with the Dominican government a decade ago. Two years ago, Melgen bought out the company that had signed the contract.

That contract has raised controversy due to its cost — an estimated $500 million to $1 billion over 20 years. And the machines have not been installed.

Menendez, who has received healthy campaign contributions from the doctor, in a July Senate hearing peppered Obama officials about what they were doing to help U.S. business interests in the Dominican Republic. He specifically mentioned the contract for X-ray equipment at the ports.

Castillo’s father, Vinicio “Vincho” Castillo, the government’s drug czar and Melgen’s uncle, has also spoken about the need for the machines.

Castillo contends that a “campaign of defamation” was orchestrated to prevent the contract from being executed and keep the X-ray machines out of the ports.

Some four million shipping containers move through the ports each year and there is currently just one X-ray machine.

The Dominican National Office for Drug Control has said that traffickers are using the ports to ship cocaine through the Dominican Republic to the U.S. and Europe.

Following an international seminar on maritime drug trafficking held in Punta Cana in December, a European Union anti-narcotics division declared that trafficking through the Caribbean had spiked.

“In the last two years cocaine traffic from the Caribbean to Europe has experimented a dramatic 800 percent increase,” the report concluded, without mentioning how much cocaine that might be.

“It’s evident that drug trafficking and its powerful allies in the country don’t have any interest in this technology being implemented in our ports,” Castillo said.

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