NJ Sen. Robert Menendez defends trips on donor's plane

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WASHINGTON -- Sen. Robert Menendez's office said Wednesday that he traveled three times on a plane owned by a prominent Florida political donor but that the trips were paid for and reported appropriately. At the same time, Menendez's office said unsubstantiated allegations the senator engaged in sex with prostitutes in the Dominican Republic are false.

The FBI searched the West Palm Beach, Fla., office of the donor -- eye doctor Salomon Melgen -- on Tuesday night and early Wednesday, but it was unclear whether the raid was related to Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat.

The Daily Caller, a conservative website, reported allegations shortly before the November election that Menendez traveled on Melgen's private plane to the Dominican Republic for sex with prostitutes, which is legal there.

Menendez's office said that any accusations of engaging with prostitutes "are manufactured by a politically motivated right-wing blog and are false."

The FBI and Justice Department declined to comment.

On Tuesday, Menendez became chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, succeeding Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.)

Menendez's office said Melgen has been a friend and political supporter of the senator for many years and that the three trips that Menendez took have been "paid for and reported appropriately." Menendez's office did not say whether the three trips were to the Dominican Republic or elsewhere, nor whether the trips were paid by Menendez personally or by his senatorial or campaign accounts.

Melgen is involved in numerous businesses, all sharing the same address in West Palm Beach, according to state records. A registered Democrat, he has made $193,350 in political contributions since 1998, including $14,200 to Menendez, according to Federal Election Commission records.

Menendez chaired a campaign committee that raises money for Democratic Senate candidates from 2009 to 2011.

A top New York recipient of Melgen donations was state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who has received $12,500 -- including $10,000 earlier this month. Schneiderman's office declined to comment.

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