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Dominican police: 3 women paid to make false claims about Menendez

Three Dominican women were paid to lie about having sex for money with Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and a close friend, Dominican police said Monday, citing statements from the women and other evidence.

At a news conference in the Dominican Republic, National Police spokesman Maximo Baez Aybar said authorities had determined that 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 Dominican shopping mall in La Romana province.

The announcement by police came two weeks after Dominican authorities released an affidavit from one of the escorts saying she had been paid to appear in a video and claim that she was paid to have sex with Menendez. The woman, Nexis de los Santos Santana, said that the claims were false and that she had never met the senator or his friend and political donor, Salomon Melgen, according to court documents and interviews.

Allegations that Menendez patronized prostitutes in the Dominican Republic began circulating last year while he was running for reelection and resurfaced in recent weeks, after he became chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The videotaped claims of two women, made with their faces obscured, were posted last fall on the conservative Web site 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.”

According to Dominican police, the taping was arranged by lawyer Melanio Figueroa, who was accompanied by a man who appeared not to be Dominican, and began in a hotel but moved to a shopping mall to get a better wireless connection.

Figueroa was to be questioned about the taping by Dominican authorities on Tuesday. Police did not say why he would have paid the women to lie. Figueroa could not be reached to comment.

De los Santos and another woman were paid about $400 each to appear in the video, and a third woman was paid about $300, police said.

In a statement Monday, Menendez spokeswoman Tricia Enright welcomed the announcement by Dominican police.

“The evidence released today by Dominican law enforcement authorities proves what we have said all along: that the smear campaign against Senator Menendez is based on lies, lies we now know were paid for by interests whose identities have not yet been fully disclosed,” Enright said. She said the false claims had been “peddled” to reporters by Republican operatives and urged that U.S. authorities investigate the matter.

Melgen’s attorney, Kirk Ogrosky, said Monday that the police announcement confirms what he and the senator “have said from day one — that the allegations against Dr. Melgen are false and politically motivated. Dr. Melgen has acted appropriately at all times, and the individuals behind this campaign of lies should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

When de los Santos initially said she had been paid to make up the sex claims, the Daily Caller said she was not one of two women it had interviewed. The site said de los Santos’s age and name did not match those of the women in the video.

On Monday afternoon, the Daily Caller posted an article saying, “TheDC has not independently verified the identities of the women involved in the Dominican National Police investigation, but will continue to investigate the case.” The article said “it remains unclear” whether the woman who gave her name as de los Santos was one of the women who appeared in the Web site’s interview.

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 alleging, in part, that he had participated in sex parties attended by Menendez. Castillo has called the allegations libelous.

“I have said it from the beginning: I won’t rest until this is resolved,” Castillo said.

The relationship between Menendez and Melgen has gained attention in recent months after the senator acknowledged that he had not disclosed two free trips he took to the Dominican Republic on Melgen’s plane. A federal grand jury in Miami is investigating Menendez’s role in advocating for Melgen’s business interests, according to three people with knowledge of the inquiry.

Menendez and Melgen have denied any improper activity.

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Luz Lazo writes about transportation and development. She has recently written about the challenges of bus commuting, Metro’s dark stations, and the impact of sequestration on air travel.
Carol Leonnig covers federal agencies with a focus on government accountability.

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