Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.)
On Monday, the Washington Post published an article that undermined a November report from the conservative Daily Caller alleging that Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) stiffed two prostitutes who had provided services to him during a trip to the Dominican Republic. Menendez has repeatedly denied the Caller's account, and the Post noted that one of the two women said she was paid to make up the claims and had never met the senator. The paper reported:
The woman said a local lawyer had approached her and a fellow escort and asked them to help frame Menendez and a top donor, Salomon Melgen, according to affidavits obtained by the Washington Post. That lawyer has in turn identified a second Dominican lawyer who he said gave the woman a script and paid her to read the claims aloud. The first lawyer said he found out only later that the remarks would be videotaped and used against Menendez, the affidavits say.
In its November story, the Caller reported that the two women were represented by attorney Melanio Figueroa, but provided no details about this lawyer. And the Washington Post report did not mention him by name. Yet Figueroa does have a public profile. He was once an aide to a former president of the Dominican Republic whom Menendez had publicly criticized. This raises an obvious question: Was the Caller drawn into an a politically motivated scheme?
Tucker Carlson, the Daily Caller's editor in chief, did not respond to the Post's request for comments but claims the Post article is wrong and that the woman the newspaper cited was not one of the two prostitutes who made the allegation. With other media outlets in the United States and the Dominican Republic jumping in, this story has moved into a swirl of charges and countercharges. But Figueroa's role remains intriguing. As the Miami Herald notes, the woman cited in the Post story and a lawyer are claiming that Figueroa approached the woman and asked her to record a video alleging Menendez had used prostitutes. The woman says they were told they were recording the video as part of divorce proceedings involving Dr. Salomon Melgen, a longtime friend and campaign donor of Menendez. Figueroa has denied being part of any such plot. But his political pedigree is interesting.
According to multiple Dominican news reports and legal filings, Figueroa has been active in the Partido Revolucionario Dominicano, the center-left political party that ruled the island nation on and off for several decades. That party has been the minority opposition in recent years. In 2010, Figueroa was described as an attorney for a provincial PRD candidate and as a minor PRD candidate himself. In 2012, Figueroa was listed in a press report as a provincial coordinator in the PRD presidential campaign of Hipólito Mejía, the Dominican president from 2000 to 2004. Mejía ended up losing that hotly contested race for the presidency in May. (Figueroa listed Mejía among his "likes" on Facebook a month before that election.)
Mejía and Menendez have a history. In the middle of Mejía's presidential tenure, then-Rep. Menendez challenged Bush administration officials who claimed Mejía was doing all he could to combat drug corruption in the island's government.
"I am seriously concerned about what is going on in the Dominican Republic in the context of Colombian drug trafficking," Menendez said in an October 2002 hearing of a House subcommittee. (The title of the hearings: "Guatemala and the Dominican Republic: Drug Corruption and Other Threats to Democratic Stability.") Menendez maintained that a corruption task force set up by Mejía "has met only a few times and has yet to produce any concrete results…We are not getting the full story here. What level has the Colombian cartels infiltrated the Dominican government?" After a widespread economic downturn, Mejía was bounced out of office in a landslide two years later.
Menendez has been in hot water beyond these sex allegations due to his close ties to Melgen, who reportedly is under investigation by the FBI and who has business dealings in the Dominican Republic. (And the Post reported last month that the FBI was investigating the prostitution allegations involving Menendez.) The involvement in this case of Figueroa—an attorney connected to a politician Menendez once slammed—is curious. Assessing his role in this episode would likely be essential to getting the full story.
Additional reporting by Kate Sheppard.