Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) is the subject of a federal criminal investigation for his dealings with two Florida businessmen who are fugitives from Ecuador, WNBC reported Thursday.
According to a report by WNBC's Jonathan Dienst, the Justice Department is investigating the senator's ties to brothers William and Roberto Isaias, who are wanted in Ecuador. The brothers, who ran Ecuador's largest bank, were convicted of embezzling more than $660 million during Ecuador's banking crisis in 1999. The brothers now live in Coral Gables, Fla.
At the center of the investigation is whether Menendez helped the brothers stay in the United States.
According to Dienst's reporting, the brothers turned to the New Jersey senator, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, for help in seeking permanent residence in the U.S. Officials said Menendez wrote letters and made calls on behalf of the brothers, according to the New York TV station's report.
What may prove problematic for the senator is whether he received campaign donations in exchange for help.
From WNBC's report:
Reached by phone, Roberto Isaias told us that as a non-resident, he can't make donations to a U.S. campaign and he does not have anything to do with any senator or politician. Federal election records show relatives of the Isaias brothers who are residents donated more than $10,000 to the senator's 2012 campaign. And those records show Roberto Isaias' family members also donated at least $100,000 to the Democratic Party in 2012.
Menendez spokeswoman Tricia Enright refuted the report in a statement to The Huffington Post.
"A year after a false smear campaign was launched against Senator Menendez, once again we see anonymous sources making outlandish allegations," Enright wrote. "Our office works each year with literally hundreds of individuals and families from across the country who are seeking help with the immigration process. We review each and every request we receive, and if we feel any inquiry is appropriate, we make it. In this particular case, Senator Menendez believed the Isaias family had been politically persecuted in Ecuador, including through the confiscation of media outlets they owned which were critical of the government. We are not aware of any inquiry into the Senator's actions on this matter."
As the Miami Herald reported in June, Ecuador has repeatedly asked the United States to extradite the Isaias brothers, to no avail. When Vice President Joe Biden called Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa to ask him to deny an asylum plea from National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, Correa brought up the Isaias brothers' case.
"[Biden] told me that Mr. Snowden was a fugitive of American justice and didn’t have a passport,” Correa said, according to a report in El Telegrafo newspaper. "I told him, ‘Well, the Isaiases are fugitives of Ecuadorian justice and they also don't have passports and you won’t extradite them.'"
No charges have been filed in the Menendez case, WNBC reports. Neither the FBI nor the Justice Department immediately returned The Huffington Post's requests for comment.
Last year, The Washington Post reported that FBI investigators traveled to the Dominican Republic to look into Menendez' relationship with his friend and major campaign donor, Dr. Salomon Melgen. While no evidence was found to back up allegations that Menendez had patronized prostitutes, as the Daily Caller had reported, his ties to Melgen drew further scrutiny, including a Senate Ethics Committee probe into his conduct.
Menendez vehemently denied any wrongdoing.
“No one has bought me, No. 1,” Menendez said last spring. “No one, ever. In the 20 years I’ve been in Congress, never has it been suggested that that could even be possible. Never in 40 years of public life. So I’m not going to reach this moment in my life to make that a possibility.”
Sabrina Siddiqui contributed reporting.