MIAMI -- FBI agents late Tuesday night raided the West Palm Beach business of an eye doctor suspected of providing free trips and even underage Dominican Republic prostitutes to U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J. -- who has denied what he calls the "fallacious allegations."
Agents gathered at the medical-office complex of opthamologist Salomon Melgen, a contributor to Mr. Menendez and other prominent politicians, to start hauling away potential evidence in several vans.
The investigation, spurred by the conservative media, is believed to be focusing on Dr. Melgen's finances and the allegations about Mr. Menendez's trips and contact with prostitutes. A Menendez spokesman could not be reached for comment, nor could the doctor.
Dr. Melgen has an outstanding IRS lien of $11.1 million for taxes owed from 2006 to 2009, according to records filed with the Palm Beach County recorder's office. A previous IRS lien for $6.2 million was released in 2011.
Despite those financial problems, Dr. Melgen and his family have contributed at least $357,000 to candidates and committees since 1998, according to Florida and federal campaign records. Of that, the Melgens have contributed about 9 percent to Mr. Menendez's federal campaigns.
Dr. Melgen also owns a private CL-600 Challenger plane through one of his West Palm Beach-based companies and frequently flies between South Florida and Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic, his native country.
Mr. Menendez has flown on the plane at least once, his office has said, when he was the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee chairman from 2009 to 2011, when the Melgens contributed about $60,400 to the group. A spokeswoman had previously said Mr. Menendez and Dr. Melgen are longtime friends and that the senator did nothing improper.
Dr. Melgen was first linked to Mr. Menendez just before the November elections, when the conservative Daily Caller website interviewed two alleged prostitutes who said they had relations with the New Jersey Democrat at Dr. Melgen's Dominican Republic mansion in Casa de Campo. After the election, the news died down. But then, days before Mr. Menendez was about to start leading the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as chairman, reporters started receiving a 58-page dossier of emails between a Miami FBI agent and a tipster who claimed that some of the prostitutes had been underage.
"I'm not going to respond to the fallacious allegations of your story," Mr. Menendez told the Daily Caller when a reporter caught up with him Monday on a train in Washington. At the time, Mr. Menendez had just stepped into the national spotlight along with Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and six other senators, all of whom are hammering out a highly watched immigration plan that is the talk of Washington.
Mr. Rubio is one of the few big-name Florida politicians who has not received campaign money from the Melgens, who have contributed to Sen. Bill Nelson and Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Joe Garcia, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart, among others.
The FBI would not comment on the e-mails, and the agent, Regino Chavez, did not return calls or emails. But sources told The Miami Herald that the emails are real. The emails from Agent Chavez show that he tried to find out what happened. But the tipster, who went by the name "Peter Williams," refused to talk to him by phone or meet him face to face.