* Menendez calls alleged scandal "politically motivated"
* Mystery source of claims fueled skepticism - watchdog
(Adds details on Menendez career and family)
By David Adams
MIAMI, Jan 30 New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez, a
Democrat and incoming chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign
Relations Committee, denied on Wednesday allegations that he
engaged in sex with prostitutes during free trips to the
Dominican Republic provided by a political donor.
The denial from Menendez, 59, who was re-elected to a second
term last year, came as FBI agents searched the offices of a
prominent South Florida eye doctor who is the donor linked to
his alleged unpaid trips.
The FBI did not explain the motive for the raid on the
offices of Dr. Salomon Melgen, 58, saying only that it was
"conducting law enforcement activity" in the vicinity of the
medical-office complex where Melgen's West Palm Beach eye clinic
The sprawling light-blue office building, usually buzzing
with customers from Melgen's booming practice, was cordoned off
on Wednesday as news crews stood watch outside. Investigators
had been inside the building through the night, and at about
2:30 p.m. agents loaded dozens of cardboard boxes into a white
The Dominican-born Melgen did not immediately return a phone
call from Reuters seeking comment.
Melgen's name has been linked in recent months to
unsubstantiated reports, first published on the conservative
Daily Caller website, that he provided Menendez with free trips
aboard his private plane to the Dominican Republic where
Menendez allegedly engaged in sex with underage prostitutes.
"Dr. Melgen has been a friend and political supporter of
Senator Menendez for many years," Menendez's press office said
in a emailed statement.
"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
Menendez, a Cuban American, is divorced and has two
children. He served in the House of Representatives from 1993
until he became a senator in 2006.
Melgen and his family are longtime contributors to numerous
political campaigns, including Menendez's, totaling $393,000
He has an outstanding lien of $11.1 million from the
Internal Revenue Service for taxes owed between 2006 and 2009,
according to records obtained from the Palm Beach County
Melgen fell victim to a Ponzi scheme in 2004 in which he
lost $15 million, according to court documents.
In a letter to the Department of Justice in July last year,
Washington-based political watchdog group Citizens for
Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) requested that
the FBI investigate "whether Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ)
engaged in sex tourism by engaging in illicit sexual acts with
underage prostitutes in the Dominican Republic."
The letter, which was provided to Reuters by CREW, also
asked the FBI to investigate if Menendez "solicited the services
of a prostitute in Florida" and whether he violated the Mann Act
banning the interstate trafficking of women for prostitution.
CREW's director said the watchdog group began looking into
the Melgen-Menendez connection after receiving email messages
last year from a man calling himself Peter Williams, who claimed
to have information that Menendez had been traveling to the
Dominican Republic with Melgen, using Melgen's private jet and
staying at Melgen's Dominican homes in La Romana and the
capital, Santo Domingo.
CREW's director Melanie Sloan said Williams refused to meet
with or speak to CREW and she grew increasingly "skeptical"
about the source, fearing that it might be a smear campaign by
political enemies of Menendez.
"We don't know who Williams is, or even if that's his real
name. So we decided to forward all the emails to the FBI."
(Reporting by David Adams; Additional reporting by Emily J.
Minor in West Palm Beach and Kevin Gray in Miami; Editing by Tom