Was Cuba behind Menendez investigation? His attorneys want to know
Ted Sherman | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
By Thomas Zambito | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
on July 22, 2015 at 1:56 PM, updated July 23, 2015 at 3:09 AM
NEWARK — Attorneys for U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez want to know whether an
agent of the Republic of Cuba kick-started the federal investigation
that led to the indictment of New Jersey's senior senator on political
During a hearing in U.S. District Court Wednesday, Menendez attorney
Abbe Lowell said he has requested documents in the government's
possession, which might show that prosecutors "got information from the
Republic of Cuba to start this case."
Federal prosecutors won't say whether or not such information exists.
And Lowell did not offer details on his request.
But on Wednesday Justice Department prosecutors asked Judge William
Walls to review any documents it has that it considers classified before
deciding whether they should be turned over to the defense.
Menendez's lawyers believe the government's move was prompted by a
request made in May for government documents relevant to their defense.
"Any documents or information describing or reflecting any allegation of
wrongdoing by Robert Menendez made by an individual or agency from
Cuba," the request said.
On Wednesday, Walls agreed to review any material the government
considers classified based on national security concerns before deciding
whether to turn them over to the defense.
The suggestion that Cuban agents might be behind the Menendez criminal
probe threatens to inject politics into a case that federal prosecutors
say is about "government corruption," not political payback.
Menendez's April indictment came while the Democratic senator was
speaking out against the Obama Administration's efforts to restore
diplomatic relations with Cuba as a ranking Democratic member of the
Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Lowell declined to comment after Wednesday's hearing. His concerns
center not on political payback but whether the case against Menendez
was initiated by a foreign agent, an act that would raise serious
questions about the integrity of the probe, according to documents the
defense team filed Monday.
Menendez, 60, was indicted on bribery and wire fraud charges and accused
of helping his longtime friend, Dr. Salomon Melgen, in his tussles with
government agencies over Medicare reimbursement rates as well as visas
for his foreign girlfriends.
In return, Justice Department prosecutors say, Melgen treated Menendez
to flights on his private jet, stays at a Paris hotel as well as a villa
in the Caribbean.
Prosecutors say Melgen, a Florida eye surgeon, funneled some $1 million
in gifts and contributions to Menendez with the bulk of his largesse
coming while the senator was "engaged in his most aggressive advocacy on
behalf of defendant Melgen."
Melgen, 61, is facing bribery and conspiracy charges. He was recently
released from custody in Florida where he is facing separate charges of
Walls set Oct. 13 for the start of the trial and told attorneys
Wednesday that he intends to stick to that date.
"I'm interested in trying this case as expeditiously and fairly as
possible and I think you should march to that beat," Walls said.
Menendez was not at Wednesday's hearing. He was in Washington, D.C. for
a Judiciary Committee hearing introducing John Vazquez to fill a vacancy
on the U.S. District Court bench for New Jersey.
Thomas Zambito may be reached at email@example.com. Follow him
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