"Nobody has bought me, No. 1. Nobody. Never," New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez told Univision last week. But if you survey the kind of things Menedez has done for opthamologist Salomon E. Melgen in the last 20 years, Menedez sure is a great friend.
Intervened to protect a $500 million security contract in the Dominican Republic. Melgen owns a business that has an exclusive contract to provide port security in the Dominican Republic worth up to $500 million over 20 years, The New York Times' Eric Lipton and William K. Rashbaum report Monday. When the Department of Homeland Security wanted to donate screening equipment to the country -- which would have undermined the value of the contract -- Menendez intervened.
The Times explains that in early 2006, Menendez began pushing to require all shipping containers headed to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic to be screened. Around the same time, Melgen started talks to buy a company that had a contract to do those inspections. But now the D.R. doesn't want to honor the contract, because it says Melgen's company charges too much for something the government should do itself. And in 2006, the U.S. donated one X-ray scanning device for the Dominican Republican to use at its Multimodal Caucedo port. More were supposed to follow. This would have undercut Melgen's business.
Last year, Melgen and a former aide to Menendez arranged to meet with a State Department official to ask the U.S. enforce Melgen's company's contract and discourage an equipment donation. Shortly after, Menendez publicly admonished the Obama administration for the proposal. In January, Menendez staffers emailed Customs and Border Protection in the Department of Homeland Security to discourage the U.S. from donating equipment to D.R., suggesting criminals were afraid of Melgen's private contract, though the aides didn't mention Melgen or his company by name. This act of friendship is particularly relevant as Menendez is the new chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Intervened in an $8.9 million Medicare billing dispute. The U.S. accused Melgen's clinic of overbilling Medicare and Medicaid by $8.9 million, and in June 2009, Menendez called investigating officials, saying the investigation was unfair because the rules were ambiguous, The Washington Post reported last week. He brought it up again with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in June 2011. As the New Jersey Star-Ledger puts it, "when Melgen acts, Menendez reacts." After Menendez's 2009 phone call, Melgen wrote a $30,000 check to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. In June 2011, Melgen wrote a $300,000 to the Majority PAC, which spent $582,500 to aid Menendez's campaign in 2012.
Possibly spent most of his life savings to reimburse private plane rides. Last month, Menendez wrote a $58,500 check to Melgen to pay for two flights to the Dominican Republic on Melgen's private plane. According to his financial disclosure forms, that was as much as 87 percent of Menendez's personal wealth. Menendez says the three-year delay in paying Melgen back was an "oversight." Surely Melgen will find it in his heart to forgive his good friend.