Washington, April 2 (IANS) The US Department of Justice has charged Senator Robert Menendez with having accepted gifts from a long-time friend and campaign donor who wanted the lawmaker's help in a dispute with federal agencies, a charge he attributed to “political motivations”.
The gifts came from Salomon Melgen, a Dominican-born eye doctor who owns four clinics in Florida, Spanish news agency Efe reported.
Besides assisting the ophthalmologist in a conflict with Medicare about alleged over-billing, the New Jersey Democrat is said to have pressured authorities in the Dominican Republic on Melgen's behalf in a dispute over an ostensible contract to provide port security.
"Every action I and my office have taken for the 23 years that I have been privileged to serve in the US Congress has been based on pursuing the best policies for the people of New Jersey and of this entire country," Menendez said on March 6 when the Justice Department notified him that he was the target of an investigation.
The 61-year-old senator also rejected criticism of his relationship with Melgen, insisting that they had been "real friends for more than two decades".
In 2012, Melgen's business donated more than $700,000 to Majority PAC, a political action committee that supported Democratic senatorial candidates.
Majority PAC ultimately provided $582,500 to aid Menendez's successful 2012 re-election bid.
Following Wednesday's indictment, Menedez called the corruption charges completely mistaken, attributing them to "political motivations".
The New Jersey lawmaker, in a statement he read in English and Spanish when he appeared before reporters in Newark, said he was "angry and ready to fight" the charges.
He said that he had always comported himself properly, and that the prosecutors who filed the charges were tricked into launching the investigation against him three years ago.
Born in New York to Cuban immigrant parents, Menendez was mayor of Union City, New Jersey, and a state legislator before winning a seat in the US House of Representatives.
He was elected to the Senate in 2006 after spending 13 years in the House.
Menendez, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is seen as one of the most influential Hispanics on Capitol Hill.