It’s been almost a month since the Wall Street Journal ran an editorial titled “The Menendez Indictment.” We responded in a letter to the editor that has not been published. It’s a safe bet it never will be, so we post it here.
The Journal got to the point in its opening paragraph:
Ill-defined federal laws now reach into virtually every sphere of human behavior, and thus prosecutors can destroy almost anyone they choose. The recent indictment of Senator Robert Menendez on 14 counts of corruption and “honest services” fraud is a troubling case in point that deserves more than a little skepticism.
Here’s our response:
To the Editor:
The Journal argues that prosecutors have “no evidence” of crimes by Senator Robert Menendez (“The Menendez Indictment,” op-ed, April 16) and points out that the large donations from his chief benefactor, Dr. Salomon Melgen, were “legal and disclosed.”
You gave short shrift to the indictment’s list of twenty flights that Menendez and/or his “guests” took on Melgen’s private jets, none of which were disclosed as gifts as required by the Ethics In Government Act. In 2007, former Rep. Robert Ney (R-OH) went to prison for failing to disclose gifts of travel from lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
Menendez defense is that he and Melgen are old friends. Senate Rules, however, limit gifts to Senators to $50. There is an exemption for personal friends, but the limit is $250, and a Senator must secure a written exemption in advance from the Ethics Committee, which Menendez did not do.
When two flights Menendez took in 2010 came to light in 2012, Menendez reimbursed Melgen $58,500, making the dubious claim that his failure to pay was an “oversight.” The $58,500 represented a substantial portion of Menendez’ net worth. At the time, Menendez’office falsely claimed that there were no more flights.
The friendship defense may backfire. Melgen was indicted on April 14 for massively defrauding Medicare. He allegedly preformed unnecessary surgeries and injections on unsuspecting elderly people, including people with prosthetic eyes and patients who were already totally blind. The indictment cites case after case of patients who were purposely misdiagnosed, inflicting trauma on them, and resulting in Medicare bills often totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars per patient.
If the allegations are true, Melgen is a monster, to whom Menendez clings as a friend. Moreover, the “legal and disclosed” political donations may have come out of the proceeds of Medicare fraud, putting them in a somewhat different light.