Documents published online for the first time Thursday indicate that the FBI opened an inquiry into New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez on August 1, 2012, focusing on repeated trips he took to the Dominican Republic with longtime campaign contributor and Miami eye doctor Salomon Melgen. TheDC reported in November that Menendez purchased the service of prostitutes in that Caribbean nation at a series of alcohol-fueled sex parties.
The documents, which The Daily Caller had obtained hours earlier from an anonymous source, also indicate that Carrie Levine, research director at Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), was alerted on April 9, 2012 to Menendez’s habit of paying for sex while outside the United States.
ABC News senior investigative producer Rhonda Schwartz was aware as early as May 2, 2012, the documents show, when Levine wrote a source in the Dominican Republic to say that she had “shared your allegations, but not your identities, with a respected, trusted journalist with whom we have worked on other stories.”
In another email two days later, Levine identified that journalist as one who “works for ABC News.” By May 16, Schwartz was emailing Levine’s original source with questions.
Information made available to Schwartz and Levine at that time included allegations that some of Menendez’s prostitutes were as young as 16. The source also alleged that Sen. Menendez was taking “non-authorized trips” to the Dominican Republic, suggesting that he may have been evading Senate Ethics committee rules covering disclosures when third parties pay for a senator’s travel.
Those rules require senators to secure approval from the committee before allowing a private person or company to provide transportation or lodging related to official business. But the Senate’s “gift rule database,” available online, contains nothing related to a Menendez visit to the Dominican Republic.
The rules also allow senators to accept free lodging or travel as gifts from friends. Those transactions must also be documented on an annual financial disclosure report, and approved in advance by the Senate Ethics committee if the value is more than $335. Menendez’s disclosures since the mid-1990s, when he was a member of the House of Representatives, include no mention of such gifts.
On Sept. 11, 2012, the documents indicate, the same source who provided information to Levine and Schwartz also sent an FBI Special Agent in Miami what he described as “the testimony of one of the girls.”
“I have in my possession the original written in her own hand,” the source wrote. “She’s 19 now, but took part in private parties with Senator Menendez being only 16.”
That testimony-style interview was published online along with the other Menendez-related documents on Thursday.
WASHINGTON — A U.S. senator employed an illegal immigrant who was a registered sex offender as an unpaid intern in his office, The Associated Press has learned. The immigrant from Peru is now under arrest by immigration authorities.
The Homeland Security Department had instructed federal agents not to arrest 18-year-old Luis Abrahan Sanchez Zavaletahim until after the Nov. 6 Election Day, a U.S. official involved in the case told the AP.
Sanchez Zavaleta was arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents in front of his home in New Jersey on Dec. 6, two federal officials said. Sanchez, who entered the country on a now-expired visitor visa from Peru, is facing deportation and remains in custody. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss details of Sanchez’s immigration case.
A spokesman for the Homeland Security Department, Peter Boogaard, said in an email to the AP that ICE followed standard procedures working with local prosecutors before taking what he called “appropriate enforcement action.” Boogard also said AP’s report was “categorically false.” He did not immediately respond to a request to specify what might be false.
Sen. Robert Menendez, a Democrat, who advocates aggressively for pro-immigration policies, was re-elected in November with 58 percent of the vote. He said his staff was notified Monday, and he personally learned about the case from AP’s reporting and knew nothing about whether DHS delayed the arrest. The senator said his staff asks interns whether they are in the country legally but cannot check to be sure.
“We certainly wouldn’t have known through any background checks since he is a minor about any sex offender status,” Menendez said in an interview Wednesday with MSNBC television. “Once it came to our attention, our New Jersey staff director let the young man go.”
Online jail records did not indicate whether Sanchez has an attorney. Sanchez declined to be interviewed from jail.
The prosecutor’s office in Hudson County, New Jersey, said Sanchez was found to have violated the law in 2010 and subsequently required to register as a sex offender. The exact charge was unclear because Sanchez was prosecuted as a juvenile and those court records are not publicly accessible. The prosecutor’s office confirmed to AP that Sanchez registered as a sex offender, although his name does not appear on the public registry. The acting county prosecutor, Gaetano Gregory, is a Republican.
Authorities in Hudson County notified ICE agents in early October that they suspected Sanchez was an illegal immigrant who was a registered sex offender and who may be eligible to be deported. ICE agents in New Jersey notified superiors at the Homeland Security Department because they considered it a potentially high profile arrest, and DHS instructed them not to arrest Sanchez until after the November election, one U.S. official told the AP. ICE officials complained that the delay was inappropriate, but DHS directed them several times not to act, the official said.
It was not immediately clear why federal immigration authorities would not have been notified sooner about Sanchez’s status.
During discussions about when and where to arrest Sanchez, the U.S. reviewed Sanchez’s application for permission to stay in the country as part of President Barack Obama’s policy to allow up to 1.7 million young illegal immigrants avoid deportation and get permission to work for up to two years. As a sex offender, he would not have been eligible. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which oversees the program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, notified Sanchez of that shortly before his arrest, one official said.
Menendez said the arrest spoke to the need for comprehensive immigration reform that brings illegal immigrants out of the shadows.
“It does speak volumes about why we need comprehensive immigration reform,” the senator said. “I can’t know who is here to pursue the American dream versus who is here to do it damage if I cannot get people to come forth out of the shadows, go through criminal background checks and then determine who is here to pursue the dream and make sure that those who are here and have criminal backgrounds ultimately get deported.”