By KEVIN FREKING
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate Ethics Committee has admonished Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey for repeatedly accepting gifts of significant value, failing to report them and for advancing the personal and business interests of a donor.
The panel began its review in late 2012 and renewed it after the senator’s federal bribery trial ended last fall with the jury hopelessly deadlocked on all charges.
The Ethics Committee said in a public letter of admonition that Menendez repeatedly accepted gifts from Dr. Salomon Melgen from 2006 through 2013 and also used his position to advance Melgen’s interests. The gifts cited by the committee included travel on private and commercial flights, a luxury hotel stay in Paris and lodging on 19 occasions at a villa in the Dominican Republic.
“You did not pay fair market value for, or, where required, obtain necessary written approval from the Committee to accept these gifts,” the committee said.
During the same time, the committee said Menendez used his position in the Senate to intervene at Melgen’s request with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which had found that Melgen had overbilled the agency by more than $8.9 million. The intervention took place over three years, reaching at its peak a meeting with the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. The committee said Menendez also advocated for ICSSI, a port security services company owned by Melgen, and helped foreign nationals obtain visas to visit Melgen in the United States.
The committee includes three Republicans and three Democrats. The panel said it has determined that the conduct violated “Senate Rules, federal law and applicable standards of conduct.” The panel also directed Menendez to repay the fair market value of all impermissible gifts not already repaid.
The senator’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Menendez, 64, launched his bid for a third term in the Senate last month. He is being challenged by Bob Hugin, a Republican political newcomer who formerly headed New Jersey-based pharmaceutical company Celgene.
Republican reaction to the Senate panel’s finding was swift and harsh.
“Bob Menendez’s scandalous conduct laid out in this letter should outrage every New Jersey voter,” said NRSC Spokesman Bob Salera. “The Senate Ethics Committee found what was already crystal clear from Menendez’s criminal trial – Bob Menendez is a crook and an embarrassment.”