TRENTON — U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez is under federal criminal investigation for allegedly helping a pair of Ecuadorian fugitives who are wanted in their home country on charges of embezzling money from their failed bank, according to a report by NBC New York.
The television station, citing unnamed sources, reported tonight that the FBI is looking into why the New Jersey Democrat contacted a high-ranking official at the Department of Homeland Security in April 2012 to ask him to give “full consideration” and “expedite” its review of the case of William and Roberto Isaias, who are seeking permanent residence in the U.S. The report said Menendez also made calls to the Department of State about the brothers.
The two men fled Ecuador more than 10 years ago and live in Florida.
Menendez spokeswoman Tricia Enright tonight said the senator’s office has not heard from investigators and that Menendez believed the family had been “politically persecuted” in Ecuador “including through the confiscation of media outlets they owned which were critical of the government.”
“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,” Enright said in a statement.
Added Enright: “We are not aware of any inquiry into the Senator’s actions on this matter, but as we have said all along, we welcome any review because the Senator’s actions have been appropriate, and we believe the facts will confirm that.”
Rebekah Carmichael, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s office, said tonight: “We can neither confirm nor deny the existence of an investigation.”
Menendez, who has held office since 2006, leads the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, and already reportedly faces a federal probe over his relationship with a Florida eye doctor.
According to the WNBC report, family members of the fugitives donated $10,000 to Menendez’s 2012 re-election campaign, as well as $100,000 to Democrats.
According to public filings, Roberto Isaias’s son, Luis, donated $2,300 to Menendez’s 2012 campaign.
The Isaias brothers have a variety of real estate and oil holdings in the United States, and recently acquired to broadcast rights of CNN Latino. They have also created a network of private schools, according to Andes, Ecuador’s state news agency.
Ricardo Patino, Ecuador’s chancellor, has said he thinks campaign donations to American politicians have helped the brothers stay in the country.
“What are the reasons why they don’t do it? (extradite them) We don’t know. I hope it’s not because of the investments that Messrs. Isaías have in the United States, let’s hope it is not due to political campaign contributions, but the fact is that they are there, they are not complying with the extradition commitment,” he said on the Andes website.
Menendez’s relationship with Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen has drawn scrutiny for the last year. It began with reports — now discredited — that the senator allegedly flew to Melgen’s Dominican Republic vacation home for trysts with underage prostitutes.
But the FBI later keyed in on business relationships between Menendez and Melgen, a major campaign donor.
A grand jury in Florida found no basis for the prostitution allegations, according to the Miami Herald. But the newspaper reported it continues to review evidence over whether Menendez used his position to influence officials to help Melgen in two instances: By speaking with top federal health officials about a finding that Melgen had overbilled Medicare by nearly $9 million, and by attempting to help a Melgen-owned company with a port security contract in the Dominican Republic.