If the indictment unsealed this week lands Sen. Bob Menendez in a prison cell, he will at least have the memory of the $1,536.96-a-night suite with a woman in a five-star Paris hotel—thanks to the generosity of his good friend and now co-defendant, Dr. Salomon Melgen.
“King bed, work area with internet, limestone bath with soaking tub and enclosed rain shower,” Menendez wrote in an email allegedly asking his pal to make the reservation and pick up the tab.
And if the same indictment keeps Melgen separated by prison walls from any possible female company, he will at least have the memory of the three girlfriends who secured visas to visit him—thanks to the efforts of Menendez.
“Hello my love, I write to remind you that you need to send me a copy of what Senator Bob Menendez’s office sent you, which I need for the embassy,” the 22-year-old woman identified in the indictment as Girlfriend 2 wrote to Melgen as she and her 18-year-old sister successfully sought to secure visas to visit him in the U.S. from the Dominican Republic.
Girlfriend 2 added, “And also remember the bank thing please.”
She signed the letter, “Thank you. A kiss.”
But those same happy memories of the New Jersey senator and the Florida doctor have now also given rise to the kind of allegations likely to prompt jurors to convict, most particularly when a significant portion of what Melgen has in the bank allegedly comes from Medicare over-billing, which makes it taxpayers' money. This is the same money Menendez is accused of working energetically to help his pal keep, even as some of it was paying for that Paris hotel suite.
Menendez may end up wishing that the answer had been the French equivalent of a Motel 6 when he emailed a girlfriend’s sister to ask where the two women would be staying on a trip to Paris in March 2010.
“The sister responded that day and informed him that she would be staying at the Park Hyatt,” the indictment reports. “Menendez confirmed that he would also book a room there.”
Menendez then emailed a staffer, “asking him to research the Park Hyatt rates, indicating whether they had a government rate available.”
The staffer soon after reported to Menendez that the hotel did indeed have a government rate, but this was not just any Hyatt. This was the Paris-Vendôme, and even with the discount the rooms were $798.75 for a Park Deluxe King and $934.82 for a Park Suite King.
As a U.S. senator, Menendez was a big shot, but his $174,000-a-year salary was not big-shot money. He allegedly rectified the disparity by employing what the indictment suggests was his usual solution.
“Menendez sent Melgen an email in which he asked Melgen to book either the Park Suite King or the Park Deluxe King at the Park Hyatt on his behalf,” the indictment says.
Menendez included a description of the impressive amenities. Melgen allegedly decided to bump his buddy up into an even grander Executive Suite at $1,536.96 a night, for a total of $4,934.10 for the three-night stay. He allegedly followed Menendez’s advice to book it through American Express Rewards, making for the first purported bribe on record paid with Membership Rewards points—649,611, to be exact.
Melgen may have figured it was the least he could do considering what Menendez is alleged to have done to facilitate visits from at least three of his girlfriends.
If the indictment also lands Melgen in prison, he may end up wishing that he dated American women who do not need to pass through immigration before snuggling up beside him.
Melgen has big-shot money, but not big-shot power such as can overcome visa problems. He is alleged to have rectified this disparity by employing what the indictment suggests was his usual solution.
In the indictment, Melgen’s Girlfriend 1 is described as an actress, model, and lawyer who desired to pursue a graduate degree in the United States.”
“Specifically in South Florida, where Melgen lived,” the indictment adds. “Melgen contacted Menendez regarding Girlfriend 1’s student visa application.”
A Menendez staffer contacted the deputy assistant secretary, Visa Services, Bureau of Consulate Affairs at the State Department in 2008, expressing the senator’s interest in the matter.
“Thanks much,” the official responded within hours. “I have reached out to out folks in Brasilia and will be back in touch tomorrow.”
The visa was approved the next day.
“The Senator very much appreciates your help,” a Menendez staffer emailed the state official.
The staffer emailed the good news to Menendez and asked: “Should someone call Dr. Melgen?”
The indictment adds, “Girlfriend 1 met Menendez several times with Melgen in New York, New Jersey, Florida, Spain and the Dominican Republic, including at Melgen’s villa in Casa de Campo.”
That same year, Melgen again sought Menendez’s help securing a visa, for Girlfriend 2, described as “a Dominican who worked as a model.” The proposition was more difficult because this girlfriend wanted to come with her younger sister as tourists.
At Melgen’s request, Menendez allegedly sent a “letter of support” to the U.S. Consulate in the Dominican Republic.
Amazingly, the visas initially were denied. A memo outlining the reason read:
“Siblings, 18 and 22 yrs old. No children. No previous travel. To go visit a friend in Florida. Neither is working. No solvency on their own. Not fully convinced of motives for travel.”
Girlfriend 2 sent an email describing the situation to Melgen, who forwarded it to Menendez, who forwarded it to a staffer.
“I would like to call Ambassador tomorrow and get reconsideration,” Menendez told the staffer.
The staffer was already in contact with the consulate and preparing a follow-up letter.
“Would you rather wait for the outcome of a follow-up letter or call the Amb asap?” the staffer asked Menendez.
“Call Ambassador asap,” Menendez replied minutes later, the indictment reports.
Despite the pressure, the chief of the Nonimmigrant Visa Unit at the embassy stood firm, explaining that federal law requires applicants to “demonstrate strong social, economic and/or family ties outside the United States.”
“Unfortunately, during their interview, [Girlfriend 2] and [Girlfriend 2’s sister] were unable to overcome the presumption of the law,” the seemingly brave bureaucrat wrote. “I have reviewed the applications and the interviewing officer’s notes, in addition to the information we received from you, and I must agree with the decision of the interviewing officer in the case.”
The visa chief did add that any applicant found ineligible under such circumstances can schedule a re-interview.
“During the re-interview, the applicants will be given another opportunity to demonstrate their qualifications for a visa,” the chief noted.
A week later, the two young women were re-interviewed.
“At the conclusion of the interview, Girlfriend 2 and her sister were informed that their visa applications were approved,” the indictment reports.
One Menendez staffer emailed another with the subject line, “2 people from the DR who wanted visas to visit Dr. Melgen GOT THEM.”
“In my view, this is ONLY DUE to the fact that RM intervened,” the email itself said. “I’ve told RM.”
RM of course being Robert Menendez, who is also alleged to have helped Melgen with Girlfriend 3, described as “a Ukrainian national who worked as a model and actress.” She also needed a tourist visa.
“RM asked me to work on an issue of a Ukrainian visa for a woman in Spain related to Dr. Melgen,” one Menendez staffer said in an email to another.
A draft of a letter from Menendez to the consul general in Madrid was prepared:
“I am writing on behalf of Salomon Melgen, who has contacted my district office in reference to a non-immigrant visa for his friend,” it began, as if a Florida doctor would seek help in Newark. “According to Dr. Melgen, he has extended an invitation to his good friend [Girlfriend 3] to undergo medical evaluation for plastic surgery as well as to visit with him within the U.S.”
The letter reported that Girlfriend 3 had “strong ties to Spain,” was enrolled at a university in Barcelona, and was “the broadcast image for channel Tele 5 Spana and thus a famous person in Spain.”
“In this time of heightened security, I can appreciate the gravity of your task,” the letter continued. “Fastidious review of visa appointments is vital to the future of this great nation. Therefore, if there is anything my office or Dr. Melgen can do to assist you in making a prompt and fair decision to grant a visa petition, please inform my office as your earliest convenience.”
The letter was signed:
United States Senator.”
The indictment reports that “Girlfriend 3 was granted a visa.”
The letter, along with all the emails about the other girlfriends and the luxury hotel suite, are now evidence in a case that further alleges Menendez accepted rides on Melgen’s private plane and stays at a posh Dominican resort and mountains of campaign cash in exchange for helping the doctor in business ventures as well as in fighting allegations he overbilled Medicare by $8,982,705.98 in taxpayer money.
“Dead wrong,” Menendez said on Wednesday night of the case against him.
Maybe he and Melgen can somehow explain it all.
Otherwise, they will be going to a place where there is no rain shower and no girls at all.
Of course, Menendez will always have Paris, but with that memory will come the reminder that he might have been fine if he had settled for Le Motel 6.