(CN) – Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey has been indicted on federal corruption charges, the Justice Department said Wednesday.
The case grows out of Menendez’s longtime friendship with Dr. Salomon Melgen, a Florida ophthalmologist and frequent contributor to political campaigns.
The 61-year-old Democrat and Melgen were both charged with eight counts of bribery, three counts of honest services fraud, one count of conspiracy, and one count of violating the travel act. Menendez was also charged with one count of making false statements.
During a press conference Wednesday night, Menendez denied any wrong-doing and angrily vowed to fight the charges he dismissed as “an outrage.”
“This is not how my career is going to end,” he said. “These accusations contradict my public service career and my entire life.”
Menendez will, however, take a hiatus from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a body on which he is the ranking Democrat.
Prosecutors say that between January 2006 and January 2013, Menendez accepted close to $1 million in lavish gifts and campaign contributions from in exchange for using his office to influence the outcome of ongoing contractual and Medicare billing disputes worth tens of millions of dollars to the doctor.
Among other gifts, Menendez is accused of accepting flights on Melgen’s private jet, a first-class commercial flight and a flight on a chartered jet; numerous vacations at Melgen’s Caribbean villa in the Dominican Republic and at a hotel room in Paris; and $40,000 in contributions to his legal defense fund and over $750,000 in campaign contributions. Menendez never disclosed any of the reportable gifts that he received from Melgen on his financial disclosure forms, the Justice Department said.
The 68-page indictment also accuses the senator of using his office to support the tourist and student visa applications of several of Melgen’s girlfriends, and to pressure federal agencies to intervene in a dispute between Melgen and officials in the Dominican Republic related to the screening of cargo containers going through Dominican ports.
“Throughout these efforts, Menendez allegedly engaged in advocacy for Melgen all the way up to the highest levels of the U.S. government, including meeting with a U.S. cabinet secretary, contacting a U.S. Ambassador, meeting with the heads of executive agencies and other senior executive officials and soliciting other U.S. Senators, all in order to assist Melgen’s personal and pecuniary interests,” prosecutors said.
Each of the eight counts of bribery lodged against the men carries a maximum sentence of up to 15 years in prison.
Menendez is the first senator to face federal bribery charges since another New Jersey Democrat, Harrison Williams Jr., was indicted in 1980 in the Abscam scandal.
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