On indictment anniversary, senator’s son seeks congressional coronation

He escaped jail time by emerging from a bribery trial with a hung jury but Sen. Robert Menendez is now chairman of a powerful Senate committee, shaping policies driving our nation to war or peace, and he’s using his influence within New Jersey’s stained political establishment to ensure his son a career in Congress.

Exactly seven years ago—on Wednesday, April 1, 2015—Menendez became the 12th U.S. senator in history to be indicted while in office. Instead of rotting in prison, Menendez is now busy paving the way among corrupt New Jersey political bosses to secure for his unaccomplished 36-year-old son, Robert Menendez Jr., a seat in Congress.

Seven years ago, he and Florida ophthalmologist Salomon Melgen were indicted in connection with a bribery scheme in which Menendez accepted gifts from the donor, who became wealthy cheating Medicare out of $103 million.

The doctor showered gifts and amenities on Menendez in exchange for using the power of his Senate office to benefit Melgen’s financial and personal interests, from trying to scuttle the investigation that resulted in the biggest Medicare fraud trial in history to arranging visas for three of the married doctor’s 20-something girlfriends to enter the United States.

The same year that Menendez was appointed to the Senate, to replace Gov. Jon Corzine, the New Jersey lawmaker started taking weekend and week-long vacations to the Dominican Republic, Florida and Paris with Melgen on the wealthy doctor’s private jet, a relationship that lasted over a seven-year period. Melgen funnelled about $750,000 to super PACs in support of Menendez’s Senate campaign.

After an anonymous tipster reached out to the FBI in 2012, with claims that Menendez was paying for underage prostitutes while in the Dominican Republic.

Those allegations went uncomfirmed, but they triggered an investigation into Menendez’s relationship with Melgen.

Menendez intervened on Melgen’s behalf in a dispute with federal officials over the doctor’s bid to secure a ­port-security contract in the Dominican Republic, according to the indictment. The US State Department planned on donating to the Dominican Republic x-ray scanners that would eliminate the need for the port security contract with Melgen.

The no-bid contract was issued by the armed forces to Belinda Beauchamps, the widow of a Dominican general who partnered with Melgen, and it would have been worth $500 million over a 20 year period.

A new Dominican government elected in 2004 suspended the contract, saying that it had been improperly awarded to Beauchamps, Melgen’s partner, as a sweetheart deal.

Menendez prevailed upon Assistant Secretary of State William R. Brownfield to raise the issue in a face-to-face meeting with the president of the Dominican Republic, during an unscheduled meeting in the Carribean island nation.

Menendez brought up the port security contract during Raul Yzaguirre’s confirmation hearing to become US Ambassador to the Dominican Republic, asking him to put a priority on stepping up drug interdiction measures.

At the time, Menendez, who chaired the subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that handled Caribbean affairs, helped break the logjam in 2009 when Yzaguirre’s nomination to become ambassador to the Dominican Republic was held up by Republicans over other disputes with the State Department.

After the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, the United States donated $7.4 million in September to the Dominican government for a range of security initiatives, including enhancing port security with a program called the Container Security Initiative, which gives American personnel the ability to screen certain US-bound cargo from abroad.

Former Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius testified that Menendez asked her for help in changing a Medicare billing policy during an August 2012 meeting with then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Sebelius declined to take action, explaining that she thought the policy was consistent and clear and in keeping with safety protocols.

Sebelius said that she turned down an earlier request from Menendez to meet about the issue and said she was surprised when Reid set up the meeting at his office.

At issue was Melgen’s practice of splitting single vials of the drug into multiple doses and billing Medicare for more than one vial. The agency ended up coming after Melgen, demanding repayment of $8.9 million.

Subsequently, the government discovered that Melgen had robbed millions of dollars from the Medicare program by administering unnecessary tests and treatments, which Dr. Julia Haller, ophthalmologist-in-chief at Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia, characterized as “elder abuse,” “unconscionable” and “horrifying.”

Melgen’s self-enriching, medically dubious eye treatments, which included eye injections and retinal laser blasts, caused unnecessary physical pain for his unsuspecting patients.

A jury in Florida convicted Melgen in April 2017 of carrying out a systemic billing fraud at his medical offices by routinely administering unnecessary, invasive treatments and profiteering off the macular-degeneration drug Lucentis, which costs about $2,000 per injection.

He was guilty of running millions of dollars’ worth of dubious diagnostic tests, often using old technology that allowed him to bill higher rates.

FBI agents and federal health-care fraud investigators raided his Palm Beach medical offices last month as part of what law enforcement sources say is a probe into allegations of fraudulent Medicare billing.

He escaped jail time with a hung jury but Sen. Robert Menendez is now chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, shaping policies crucial to our nation’s war and peace even after he got a strong slap on the wrist from his peers on the bipartisan Senate Ethics Committee.

The ethics panel voted unanimously to issue Menendez a “letter of admonition,” rebuking the two-term senator for accepting gifts and private flights from a wealthy donor in exchange for helping coverup the contributor’s crimes and doing other favors in for Washington.

“[Y]our actions reflected discredit upon the Senate,” the six-member panel wrote.

The Senator also played a key role in virtually guaranteeing his son, Robert Menendez, Jr., the Democratic nomination in the 8th Congressional District, a solid blue New Jersey district that contains portions of four counties and 15 municipalities.

Cyprus Ambassador Marios Lysiotis and Greek Ambassador Alexandra Papadopoulou stand on either side of candidate Robert Menendez Jr. (center) while Mike Manatos, Tasos Zambas, Andy Manatos & Nick Larigakis look on at an event arranged by the candidate’s father —Sen. Robert Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee—six weeks after the Senator’s bill providing $27 million a year to Greece was signed into law.

In a naked attempt to influence an American election in exchange for US government cash, Cyprus Ambassador Marios Lysiotis and Greek Ambassador Alexandra Papadopoulou recently met with candidate Robert Menendez Jr.

Mike Manatos, Tasos Zambas, Andy Manatos & Nick Larigakis witnessed the action, which was arranged by the candidate’s father and took place exactly six weeks after the Senator’s bill providing $27 million a year to Greece was signed into law.

Neither Department of Justice officials nor the FBI would confirm that an investigation has been launched into the apparent foreign influence scheme, but progressive Hudson County businessman Brian Varela is taking on the challenge of stopping a new generation of corruption.

A Hudson County resident, Varela served as a communications and press intern in the New Jersey Governor’s Office in 2010. He is the founder and CEO of Varemar Digital Marketing, a website developer and advertising firm based in North Bergen.

The anti-establishment candidate, advocating positions such as universal health care, childcare, and education reform, is making headway consildating support among leading New Jersey progressive Democrats.

Varela started racking up endorsements from several top local Democrats and others with a national profile. Andrew Yang, a Democratic candidate for president in 2020, and the organization Forward Humanity have endorsed the Varela campaign.

Members of Congress do not automatically forfeit their offices upon conviction of a crime that constitutes a felony, and laws defining what constitutes bribery have been eroded in a series of Supreme Court decisions. Varela says he would work to change that.

“It is about time that we outlaw bribery,” said Varela, who noted that a case brought by Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz could effectively wind up further ‘legalizing bribery’ by knocking down one of the few remaining safeguards against excessive money in politics.

“Our public officials should hold themselves to the highest standards possible,” said Varela.

The case is Federal Election Commission v. Ted Cruz for Senate, and it involves a federal law intended to prevent campaign donors from putting money directly into the pockets of elected officials. Specifically, the law permits candidates to loan money to their own campaigns, but forbids the campaign from repaying more than $250,000 of that loan from funds raised after the election takes place.

On the anniversary of the senator’s indictment, son seeks congressional coronation

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