A top Dominican law enforcement official said Friday that a local lawyer has reported being paid by someone claiming to work for the conservative Web site the Daily Caller to find prostitutes who would lie and say they had sex for money with Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.).
The lawyer told Dominican investigators that a foreign man, who identified himself as “Carlos,” had offered him $5,000 to find and pay women in the Caribbean nation willing to make the claims about Menendez, according to Jose Antonio Polanco, district attorney for the La Romana region, where the investigation is being conducted.
The Daily Caller issued a statement Friday saying that the information allegedly provided by the Dominican lawyer, Melanio Figueroa, was false.
The videotaped claims of two women, made with their faces obscured, were posted in the fall on the Daily Caller. The site reported that “the two women said they met Menendez around Easter at Casa de Campo, an expensive 7,000-acre resort in the Dominican Republic. . . . They claimed Menendez agreed to pay them $500 for sex acts, but in the end they each received only $100.”
In its statement Friday, the Daily Caller said: “At no point did any money change hands between The Daily Caller and any sources or individuals connected with this investigation, nor did anyone named Carlos travel to the Dominican Republic on behalf of The Daily Caller. As recently as two weeks ago, Figueroa was on record with another news outlet as saying the women he represented were telling the truth about their initial allegations against Senator Menendez.”
Tucker Carlson, who runs the Web site, said in a statement provided through his spokesman that the Daily Caller “never paid anyone, was never asked to pay anyone and of course never would pay anyone for this story.”
“It seems clear to me Figueroa is under pressure to change his story,” he said. “What I know for certain is this claim is a lie.”
Earlier this month, Figueroa told the New York Times that he did not make up a plot to “smear” Menendez and his wealthy friend and donor, Salomon Melgen, and that one of the alleged prostitutes had been pressured to say she fabricated her account of sex with the senator.
Under police questioning, Figueroa said the foreign man, who said he worked for the Daily Caller but did not provide identification, asked him to arrange staged interviews, Polanco said.
Polanco said that Figueroa gave police an account describing his involvement in the taping, starting in October. He said he was approached by Carlos about the idea in the fall, and they met in a small bar in a Santo Domingo shopping center to discuss the details, according to Polanco. Figueroa said the foreign man gave him a $2,000 “advance” to make the arrangements for the interview, Polanco said.
In comments reported by Univision, Polanco said that Figueroa stated he has been contacted by four media outlets — Telemundo, Univision, CNN en Español and the Daily Caller — that were interested in interviewing the women. But Figueroa told police it was only “Carlos,” who identified himself as working for the Daily Caller, who came to the Dominican Republic and paid him to arrange the recorded interviews, according to an interview with Polanco.
Figueroa has not responded to requests for comment.
The account that Dominican authorities said they received from Figueroa could not be independently confirmed by The Washington Post.
Earlier this week, Dominican police said three women were paid to lie about having sex for money with Menendez and a close friend. The police cited statements from the women and other evidence.
Maximo Baez Aybar, a spokesman for the National Police, told a news conference Monday that authorities had determined the women were paid hundreds of dollars by a local lawyer to make the false claims in videotaped interviews. The women said the lawyer coached them on what to say in their recorded statements, taped in a shopping mall in La Romana province. The women each said that they were paid between $291 and $413 to say that they had sex with Menendez for money while the senator vacationed in the Dominican Republic with Melgen. Each of the women later told police that they had never met either Menendez or Melgen.
The Daily Caller posted an article Monday saying that it “has not independently verified the identities of the women involved in the Dominican National Police investigation, but will continue to investigate the case.”
Menendez has repeatedly said the prostitution allegations were false, smears meant to hurt his chances of reelection in the fall and undermine his authority as the new chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Melgen’s attorney, Kirk Ogrosky, welcomed the account provided by Polanco on Friday and called for those behind the “campaign of lies” to be prosecuted. “Information released today provides further evidence that the allegations against Dr. Melgen are false and politically motivated,” Ogrosky said in a statement. “We will continue working with U.S. and D.R. authorities, and remain confident that the truth will speak for itself.”
The Dominican investigation began last month when Melgen’s cousin, a prominent lawyer in the Caribbean nation, filed a defamation complaint. Vinicio Castillo Seman demanded an inquiry into anonymous accusations published on the Daily Caller Web site, which alleged, in part, that he had participated in sex parties attended by Menendez. Castillo has called the allegations libelous.
Peter Wallsten and Alice Crites contributed to this report.
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