Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) broke Senate rules and federal law by accepting gifts from a now convicted Florida eye doctor and failing to disclose those gifts, according to a letter of admonition released by the Senate Select Committee on Ethics
The committee said in the letter released Thursday that the New Jersey Democrat's "reflected discredit upon the Senate" when he took gifts and trips from Salomon Melgen and used his political influence to help his friend with with business disputes and with obtaining visas for the doctor's girlfriends.
"Your assistance to Dr. Melgen under these circumstances demonstrated poor judgment, and it risked undermining the public's confidence in the Senate. As such, your actions reflected discredit upon the Senate," read the letter, which was signed by each of the committee's members.
Menendez's attorney, Marc Elias, said in response to the Senate Ethics Committee letter: "As those who followed the 11-week trial know, many of the findings in the letter were not only contradicted by the presiding judge and rejected by the jury, but the proceedings clearly demonstrated there was no violation of any law. This was further underscored when the Department of Justice dropped its baseless charges in January."
Elias added that Menendez has acknowledged and made substantial payments for gifts.
"With the Ethics Committee process now concluded, Sen. Menendez looks forward to continuing to serve the people of New Jersey," he said.
For more than six years, Menendez accepted 19 stays at a villa in the Dominican Republic, free private and commercial jet trips as well as a luxury stay in Paris all without paying fair market value. In exchange, the Ethics Committee said the New Jersey’s senior senator used his office and power to help Melgen try to get out of $8.9 million in Meidcare overbilling; helped the eye doctor try to secure a port security deal potentially worth tens of millions; and tried to secure visas for Dr. Melgen’s overseas girlfriends.
Prosecutors dropped bribery charges against the Democratic senator and Dr. Melgen after their trial ended in a hung jury. But the Ethics Committee – made up of three Republicans and three Democrats – told Menendez that it “…directs you to repay the fair market value of all impermissible gifts not already repaid.”
The Committee said it reviewed evidence presented at the federal criminal trial in Newark as well as submissions the senator made. It called Sen. Menendez’s behavior "troubling."
In severly admonishing the Senator, the committee led by Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA) and Christopher Coon (D-DE) wrote, “Senators must closely guard against even the appearance that their families or friends are entitled to use these resources and power for their own personal gain.”
Dr. Melgen was convicted in a separate trial in Florida of stealing nearly $100 million dollars from Medicare. Melgen could spend the rest of his life in prison.
Bog Hugin, a candidate for the Republican party's nomination to challenge Menendez's seat, said in a statement that Menendez should resign.
"He is an embarrassment to our state and it is time for him to resign," Hugin said.
In addition to paying back the fair market value of all gifts received, the Senate Ethics Committee also ordered Menendez to amend his financial disclosure reports to include all reportable gifts.
The judge in Menendez's trial last year declared a hung jury after more than six full days of deliberations. Ten of 12 jurors wanted to acquit the senator, but two disagreed.
After the trial, an emotional Menendez blasted investigators for bringing the case against him in the first place. He also thanked those who helped him raise millions for his legal defense fund.