New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez is facing the possibility of 15 years in prison for using his position to help a wealthy donor in exchange for nearly $1million in gifts and campaign contributions.
The 61-year-old Democrat has pleaded not guilty to eight bribery counts related to his close personal friendship with eye surgeon Dr Salomon Melgen, 60, according to a 68-page federal indictment unsealed this month and detailed in the New York Post.
Perhaps the most embarrassing of the accusations is that Menendez used his influence to get visas for married Melgen’s multiple young lovers abroad – including a Brazilian model who posed on the cover of ‘Sexy’ magazine and a Ukrainian actress who moved to Florida to live in one of Melgen’s homes.
Menendez and Melgen met at a fundraiser in 1993, shortly after Menendez was voted into the Senate.
The two quickly became close, with Menendez being invited to fly on Melgen’s private jet and visit his villa in the Dominican Republic on several occasions.
According to the details in the indictment, Menendez began helping out his rich friend in 1998, when Melgen wanted to fly a 22-year-old girlfriend – identified as ‘girlfriend 2 in court documents – and her 18-year-old sister from the Dominican Republic to spend Christmas with him in the States.
Despite Melgen writing a letter to the embassy in Santo Domingo, the sisters’ applications were initially denied due to the fact that they were unemployed and therefore more likely to overstay their visas.
When Melgen found got the bad news, he reached out to his friend Menendez for help.
Menendez then told his senior policy adviser Mark Lopes that he planned to personally call the ambassador and, if that didn’t work, a contact at the State Department.
An unidentified high-ranking member in the State Department allegedly responded by telling Menendez that he agreed with the visa decision.
Nevertheless, a few weeks later the sisters were re-interviewed and this time their visas were approved.
Lopes emailed a colleague after and wrote that it was ‘ONLY DUE to the fact that RM intervened.’
Menendez next helped Melgen in 2007, when the doctor was trying to get another young woman to visit him in the U.S.
The woman identified as ‘girlfriend 3’ in court documents is described as a Ukrainian actress and model who was 20 years old and living in Spain around the time at Menendez intervened in her immigration process.
According to the indictment, a Menendez staffer reached out to the U.S. consul general in Madrid on behalf of a ‘famous person in Spain’ who was a ‘good friend’ of Melgen and needed a visa to ‘undergo medical evaluation for plastic surgery in the U.S’.
‘Dr Melgen is a person of the highest caliber,’ Menendez wrote . ‘He is a fine citizen and held in high esteem by his peers.’
It’s believed that ‘girlfriend 3’ is model Svitlana Buchyk, now 28, a woman who has been tied to Melgen and who lived in Spain before moving to Florida.
Svitlana made headlines in Florida in 2010 when she crashed a car that was registered in Melgen’s wife’s name. At the time, Buchyk gave police Melgen’s address in North Palm Beach as her own.
When contacted the the Miami Herald at the time, she told the paper that she worked for Melgen in the past but would not describe what that work involved.
‘He treated me well,’ she said. ‘He had money. He was very generous.’
She now allegedly goes by the name Lana Moyzuk and lives in Los Angeles.
It appears Melgen may have been juggling women in 2007, when he brought Buchyk to the U.S., since he also reportedly started dating a famous Brazilian actress that same year.
Menendez is also accused of intervening to help this woman to the U.S. a few years later, when she wanted to study law at the University of Miami.
The Post has identified ‘girlfriend 1’ as 34-year-old Juliana Lopes Leite, who once appeared on Brazil’s version of Big Brother and posed nude in several magazines before her move to the U.S. to become a lawyer.
The indictment says Menendez knew Leite was one of Melgen’s paramours when he agreed to help with her visa application, ordering his adviser Lopes to write a letter in the woman’s favor to the State Department.
In the letter, lopes wrote that Leite ‘(no relation to me) has her visa application appointment in Brasilia, Brazil, tomorrow . . . Sen. Menendez would like to advocate unconditionally for Dr. Melgen and encourage careful consideration of [Girlfriend 1]’s visa application.’
The State Department got back to Menendez’s office in just a few hours later and the following day Leite’s visa was approved. She graduated from the University of Miami in 2011, and still resides in the city as a lawyer.
Melgen is also facing charges in the indictment unsealed this month, in addition to separate 76-count indictment for Medicaid fraud.
He remains behind bars at the Federal Detention Center in Miami after being deemed a flight risk.
Meanwhile, Menendez continues his role as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and has raised $1.3million for his legal defense fund.