At first glance, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s letter to the Dominican Republic’s ambassador to the United States looks like standard fare for a chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.
“Recent reports that the illicit drug trade and the presence of drug cartels may shift towards the Dominican Republic are of increasing concern to the Committee,” the Miami Republican, then committee chair, wrote Ambassador Aníbal de Castro April 10, 2012.
“I am interested to hear what specific steps your administration is tak[ing] to improve cargo security,” she closed, “and reducing the flow of drugs to the United States and how we can work together towards achieving this goal.”
Someone else was keenly interested, too: Dr. Salomon Melgen, investor in a Dominican Republic port security company, ICSSI, which wants to X-ray cargo at the very ports Ros-Lehtinen was concerned about.
Ros-Lehtinen's letter came a month after Melgen contributed $5,000 to her campaign in a race where she faced token opposition (in 2011, he contributed $4,800). And, a few months before that, Ros-Lehtinen held a benefit for medical research in which Melgen cut another $15,000 check.
Melgen’s West Palm Beach offices were raided last week by federal agents in a Medicare-fraud investigation. FBI agents are also examining his ties with Sen. Bob Menendez, D-NJ.
Melgen has a reputation, among some political insiders, of being “transactional,” meaning he gives donations but also expects to get something in return. Sources tell The Miami Herald the doctor has asked various members of Congress over the years for help with one of his lawsuits, his port deal, Medicare and a tax issue.