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Pulp fiction? Porn? True crime? Political dirty tricks? Menendez saga is FL whodunit

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.

Menendez’s office said he paid Jan. 4. No copy of the cancelled check was provided. It accounts for anywhere from 86 percent to 34 percent of Menendez’s reported savings and checking accounts.

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, with the lion’s share coming in the last election from Vitreo-Retinal Consultants which funneled the money through a Democratic political action committee, Majority PAC. Previously, The Herald reported a much lower figure for Melgen’s contributions that didn’t include the money from Vitreo-Retinal.

With Melgen’s contributions came stature. Political insiders say Melgen was essentially attached at Menendez’s hip in South Florida and the Dominican Republic.

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, 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.

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.

At one point, on Sept. 12, FBI agent Regino Chavez emailed Williams and said “we have been able to confirm” most of the information he provided. But it’s not clear what that information was.

On Nov. 1, Chavez seemed annoyed that Williams had provided him no access to the alleged prostitutes yet two others gave an interview with the conservative Daily Caller website just before the election that Menendez won. Those prostitutes were not underage and neither claimed Menendez consorted with minors.

Williams suggested that he was not aware of those two prostitutes. They can’t be found any longer. Their former lawyer, Melanio Figueroa, has stopped returning press calls.

The email trail with the agent, sent anonymously to reporters late last month before Menendez was set to chair the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, ends in late December. CREW released other correspondence at week’s end.

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.

And, more recently, the Associated Press reported that the Department of Homeland Security held off on arresting a Menendez office intern, an illegal immigrant sex offender, until after the election because it “had the possibility of garnering significant congressional and media interest.”

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.”

The article also said Diaz-Balart’s brother, former Florida Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart, sat on VOXXI’s board. But an official with VOXXI said that was an error. Another Diaz-Balart, Cristina, managed a political committee that received $5,000 from Melgen.

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.

“He’s never been on planes, trains or automobiles, including black helicopters, with Dr. Melgen,” she said. “In fact, he’s never been to the Dominican Republic in his life.”

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.

Comments

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Robert Jenkins

Didn't "our" Jr. Senator,repay air fare expenses after the fact? Didn't Former Congressman David Rivera along with "our" Jr. Senator, fly to the D.R. on a couple of fact finding missions? Isn't the Ambassodor from the D.R. "very" good friends with all three mentioned? Uh-Oh, looks like pink slips in the D.R. have been given. Not to worry though I understand they are hiring in Columbia!!!

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