Born to Cuban immigrants on January 1, 1954 in New York City, Bob Menendez earned a BA in politics from Saint Peter's College (New Jersey) in 1976, and a JD from the Rutgers University School of Law in 1979. He was admitted to the New Jersey Bar in 1980 and promptly opened a private legal practice.
From 1974-78, Menendez was a member of the Union City, New Jersey board of education. In the late seventies, he began working for that town's Democratic mayor, William Musto, whom he viewed as a political mentor and father figure. But Menendez eventually quit that job and testified against Musto in a 1981-82 corruption trial that saw his former employer convicted and sentenced to seven years in prison.
Menendez went on to serve as a representative in the New Jersey House from 1988-90; mayor of Union City from 1986-92; a New Jersey state senator from 1990-92; and a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1993-2006. When Jon Corzine in January 2006 resigned from his U.S. Senate seat (representing New Jersey) in order to begin his tenure as the state's newly elected governor, he appointed Menendez to take his place in the Senate for the remainder of that year. In November, Menendez won a general election for that same Senate seat, and he was re-elected in 2012.
Widely regarded as a highly effective fundraiser, Menendez has raised millions of dollars for a number of Democratic political candidates—particularly Latinos—since 2000.
According to the Washington Post, “Menendez has tried to position himself as the 'Democratic Party's conscience on immigration.'” Toward that end, Menendez in 2004 proposed legislation that would have allowed many illegal immigrants to apply for permanent guest-worker status or citizenship. That same year, he co-sponsored legislation with Senator Ted Kennedy that would have tightened restrictions on the manner in which law-enforcement officials could conduct immigration raids, but the bill never reached a vote. In 2006 Menendez backed the broad “comprehensive immigration reform” plan that was never signed into law. And in 2008 he co-sponsored legislation that would have given illegal-immigrant high-school graduates a six-year window to become eligible for citizenship by either earning a college degree or serving in the military, but the bill did not make it out of committee. Today Menendez favors a path-to-citizenship requiring illegal immigrants to pass a series of benchmarks such as paying a monetary fine and learning English.
For a more detailed overview of Menendez's voting record on immigration and numerous other key issues as a member of Congress, click here.
From 1993-2003, Menendez, as a landlord, rented out office space to a Union City nonprofit agency, collecting some $300,000 in rental fees during that period. In 1998 he assisted the same agency by persuading the Department of Health and Human Services to designate it as a federally qualified health center, thereby expanding the agency's eligibility for federal grants (of which it received some $9.6 million worth during the ensuing eight years). Menendez stated, accurately, that he had rented his Union City property to the agency at (slightly) below-market rates; but his claim that he had not profited from the deal was false.
In September 2006 a psychiatrist named Oscar Sandoval, who held some $1 million in government contracts to provide psychiatric services to a number of Hudson County, New Jersey public facilities, released a set of tape recordings from 1999 that implicated Menendez in serious corruption. On the tapes, Menendez’s close friend and fundraiser Donald Scarinci, a powerful attorney professing to speak on Menendez's behalf, asks Sandoval to hire Dr. Vicente Ruiz (a staunch Democratic Party supporter with ties to Menendez) or face the prospect of losing all of his government contracts. Scarinci can be heard saying that “Menendez will consider that a favor” which would earn “protection” for Sandoval. As soon as the tapes were made public, the Menendez campaign cut its ties with Scarinci and denied that the latter had been acting on Menendez’s behalf.
In 2010 the Wall Street Journal reported that Menendez had written to Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke, asking him to approve the Crown Bank of Brick's acquisition of the failing New Jersey-based First Bank Americano (FBA), whose chairman and vice chairman were both major Menendez donors. (That acquisition, had it been approved, would have prevented the two executives from losing whatever was left of their investments in the bank.) All told, 8 of FBA's 15 directors had given money to Menendez or his political action committee. Former federal bank regulator William Black, a Democrat, called Menendez's letter “grotesquely inappropriate” insofar as it directly asked regulators to approve an application, rather than to simply place it under consideration. A scathing FDIC report indicated that FBA had engaged in numerous unsafe or unsound banking practices over the years, and the acquisition ultimately was disallowed.
In December 2012 it was reported that one of the interns working in Senator Menendez's office was an 18-year-old immigrant from Peru who was living in the U.S. illegally and was a registered sex offender. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency first became aware of the man in October 2012, but the Department of Homeland Security instructed federal agents not to arrest him until after the November elections; Menendez, whose six-year Senate term was drawing to a close, was among those on the ballot. When news of the intern's background finally broke five weeks after Election Day, Menendez denied having known anything about the directive to delay the young man's arrest.
On August 1, 2012, the FBI opened an investigation into reports that Menendez had repeatedly traveled to the Dominican Republic (DR) to participate in “sex parties” featuring heavy drinking and multiple prostitutes, some of whom were underage girls. Menendez acknowledges having accepted free flights on the private plane of one of a longtime major Democratic donor, Miami ophthalmologist Salomon Melgen, for three visits he made to Melgen's luxury resort in the DR in 2010. Because the senator did not pay Melgen for those trips at that time, they technically constituted very large gifts that, according to Senate ethics rules, should have been publicly disclosed; but Menendez made no such disclosure.
In the fall of 2012, the Daily Caller published reports of Menendez's DR visits and the prostitution allegations. Not long thereafter—on January 4, 2013—the senator reimbursed Melgen $58,500 to cover the cost of two of the three trips in question. According to one report, that total represented more than one-third of Menendez's liquid assets. As the Daily Caller noted, “The senator’s willingness to part with such a large amount of his personal funds ... underscores the seriousness of charges he might otherwise have faced from the Senate Ethics committee.”
Menendez's third trip to the Dominican Republic, said his spokeswoman Tricia Enright, was a fundraising venture that the senator's campaign had reported to the Federal Election Commission. When asked by reporters in late January 2013 to respond to the prostitution allegations against him, Menendez said: “I have no comment and I'm not going to dignify that story.”
In early 2013, Menendez was one of the “Gang of Eight” U.S. senators (four Democrats and four Republicans) sponsoring Senate Bill 744, known as the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act. This bill called for the provision of a path-to-citizenship for most of the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants already residing in the United States; an expedited path-to-citizenship for illegals who first entered the U.S. as minors; a doubling of the number of future legal immigrants permitted to enter the U.S. from Mexico; and a continuance of the practice of “birthright citizenship,” whereby American citizenship is automatically granted to babies born in the United States regardless of the parents' legal status.
The other Democrats who served on this panel with Menendez were Michael Bennet, Richard Durbin, and Charles Schumer. A Politico.com analysis noted that their proposal, if passed, “would transform the nation’s political landscape” by “pumping as many as 11 million new Hispanic voters into the electorate a decade from now in ways that ... would produce an electoral bonanza for Democrats and cripple Republican prospects in many states they now win easily.”
In March 2014, Menendez praised a Department of Homeland Security edict directing 21,000 U.S. border patrol officers to: (a) retreat and seek cover, rather than discharge their weapons, whenever illegal immigrants threw rocks at them; (b) keep their weapons holstered whenever drug smugglers were driving by or fleeing from the agents; and (c) avoid (on pain of penalty) making any effort to block the path of a vehicle being used in suspected wrongdoing.
In 2014-15, Menendez, in stark contrast to President Barack Obama, was a staunch supporter of additional sanctions against Iran as a means of pressuring its leaders to abandon their nuclear ambitions. When Obama suggested in January 2015 that Menendez and other likeminded Democrats may have adopted their pro-sanctions positions mainly in order to appease their donors, Menendez told the president that he took “personal offense” to that assertion. During a congressional hearing a few days later, Menendez said: “I have to be honest with you, the more I hear from the administration and its quotes, the more it sounds like talking points that come straight out of Tehran. And it feeds to the Iranian narrative of victimization when they are the ones with original sin.”
In early March 2015, the Obama Justice Department announced that it was preparing to bring criminal corruption charges against Menendez, alleging that he had used his Senate office to promote the business and personal interests of his friend and political supporter, the aforementioned Miami ophthalmologist Salomon Melgen, in exchange for luxury gifts, expensive vacations, and more than $750,000 in campaign donations. Responding to the charges, Menendez told reporters: "I have always conducted myself appropriately and in accordance with the law And I am not going anywhere."
On March 31, 2015, Menendez was indicted on 14 counts of federal corruption. The 68-page indictment alleged that the senator had: (a) attempted, on Melgen’s behalf, to influence a State Department official in a dispute involving one of the doctor’s business interests in the Dominican Republic; (b) tried to help Melgen in a Medicare billing problem; and (c) mobilized his staff, at Melgen's request, to secure visas for several young female paramours of the doctor. These included a Brazilian actress who had posed nude on the cover of Sexy magazine, a 20-year-old Ukrainian woman, and a 22-year-old Dominican model.
For additional information on Bob Menendez, click here.
 Melgen is a native of the Dominican Republic who has lived in the U.S. since at least 1980. A longtime tax evader, Melgen incurred liens of $1.3 million before 2002, $6.2 million in 2011, and (as of February 2013) a still-outstanding $11.1 million between 2006 and 2009. Notwithstanding his tax debts, Melgen donated some $700,000 to Menendez and other Democratic candidates during the 2012 election cycle. (In fact, he was the leading donor to Menendez's re-election campaign.)
In 2009 Melgen invested at least $51,500 in the Florida-based Gaseous Fuel Systems (GFS) Corporation, which manufactures and sells products to convert diesel-fuel fleets to natural gas; he then joined the company's board of directors in early 2010. According to an Associated Press report: "At the same time, Menendez emerged as a principal supporter of a natural gas bill that would boost tax credits and grants to truck and heavy vehicle fleets that converted to alternative fuels. The bill stalled in the Senate Finance Committee, and after it was revived in 2012, the NAT GAS Act failed to win the needed 60 votes to pass."
In addition to his work as an ophthalmologist, Melgen also manages a Florida company, Border Security Services LLC, which in 2011 purchased I.C.S.S.I., a port-security firm that had been providing X-ray screening at Dominican ports since 2002. (That port contract was worth an estimated $50 million per year, and the Dominican government had recently begun to express a desire to terminate the contract due to the high costs.) Columnist Michelle Malkin writes: "Menendez used a Senate hearing [in summer 2012] to lobby for enforcement of the contract Melgen’s company ha[d] with the Dominican government. Menendez also met with officials from the Obama State and Commerce departments on the matter, though he was careful not to mention Melgen by name. One of Menendez’s longtime senior legislative aides, Pedro Pablo Permuy, [was slated to] be in charge of operations ..." For a detailed timeline of the Melgen-Menendez Dominican port security deal (and its historical context), click here.
In March 2013, it was revealed that in 2008 the federal government had accused Vitreo-Retinal Consultants, Melgen's eye-care company, of over-billing Medicare by $8.9 million. In response to that charge, Melgen hired (at a cost of as much as $60,000) the powerful law and lobbying firm Arnold & Porter to lobby the Senate on his behalf vis a vis “issues related to Medicare reimbursement.”
 Senate rules require prior approval of such private jet travel and luxury lodging, and financial disclosure of such gifts after approval.