Economy

Dominican woman testifies Sen. Menendez helped her with visa

Dominican woman testifies Sen. Menendez helped her with visa”

New Jersey senator Robert Menendez once ordered staffers to urgently contact a U.S. ambassador in order to acquire a visa for his married friend's girlfriend and her sister, a court has heard. "He was going to talk to the senator". Defense lawyers contend that the almost two dozen charges against the two men falsely, and deceptively, link a 25-year friendship to corruption. He recalled the case of a Colombian family, also in 2008, in which Menendez called a US ambassador in support of the family's application. The senator ordered his staff to contact the USA ambassador to the Dominican Republic "asap" after the woman and her 18-year-old sister were denied visas, according to an email shown to jurors. After the interview, the consular official notified Lopes that the visa was approved and that Lopes-Leite "was a flawless student visa case".

Lawyers for Menendez accept that he offered official help to Melgen, but say this was because of a decades-long friendship, and not in return for payment. Despite the inclusion of the letter the visa application, those visas were denied.

Lopes assured the jury that Menendez never asked him to do anything illegal, including calling ambassadors and consul generals on behalf of visa applicants. "Yes, call if necessary", Menendez emailed back.

The jury will need to decide if such letters qualify as official acts or if Menendez's decision to write letters and make calls was inconsequential since it is outside of the scope of Menendez's elected position to grant visas.

"He wanted me to be proactive about advocating the outcome that he sought and didn't want to wait for a response", Lopes said.

Lopes and a handful of other staff members pursued the issue, and a month later the Polanco sisters got a second interview for their visa applications and they were approved. "It damages Menendez's reputation to take something like this all the way to the ambassador".

'In my view, this is only due to the fact that RM intervened, ' Lopes wrote in an email about his then-boss. "No action needed, just an FYI".

Mr. Thomas said, however, that after examining Mr. Menendez's American Express records, it would have taken the senator about 30 years to accumulate 650,000 points at the rate in which he was accruing the rewards points.

Although Menendez sat quietly at the defense table throughout Monday's testimony, he had speaking engagements before and after the five-hour proceedings.

In 2010, Mr. Melgen used almost 650,000 American Express reward points to pay for Mr. Menendez's three-night stay in Paris at the Park Hyatt hotel in a room with a limestone bath, soaking tub and numerous other amenities. Menendez had about 58,000 points in his AmEx account at the time, and prosecutors want to show he tapped his wealthy friend in order to stay in a $1,500-per-night hotel as part of the bribery scheme. Menendez did redeem AmEx points - some 135,000 of them - to purchase a high-end grill in 2013. The grill cost him 134,328 points - almost all he had, and a fraction of the 649,611 points it cost Melgen to book the hotel room.



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