Former Menendez aide used private email account, denies 'nefarious intent'

Former Menendez aide used private email account, denies 'nefarious intent'”

Bob Menendez sent a letter of support to the State Department to get two women from the Dominican Republic a US visa, and one of these women happened to be the girlfriend of a wealthy eye doctor who prosecutors say bribed the Democratic senator with gifts and luxury vacations in exchange for favors.

For the two sisters from the Dominican Republic, Rosiell and Korall Polanco, Mr. Lopes testified, a letter from Mr. Menendez wasn't enough for the official at the United States consulate in the Dominican Republic conducting their interview.

Under direct questioning from the government, former senior policy adviser Mark Lopes testified Menendez emailed him in 2008 authorizing a letter of support from Menendez to be sent to consular officials regarding the visa applications of two sisters from the Dominican Republic.

Over the objections of prosecutors, Judge William H. Walls allowed the letter into evidence.

Menendez, 63, is standing trial for bribery, honest services fraud, conspiracy, and other related charges. Menendez exerted more effort on the matter than he would have for any other constituent, government attorneys said. She said that at the first visa interview in 2008, she and her sister, who also sought a visa, waited for hours and were treated abruptly. Despite the inclusion of the letter the visa application, those visas were denied.

The judge would not let Cooney ask Lopes whether he was aware of the senator's flights on Melgen's private plane, ruling it was "immaterial as to whether he was aware or not aware".

"Call ambassador ASAP", Menendez wrote back, according to emails entered into evidence on Monday. "It was not uncommon for Senator Menendez to advocate forcefully".

'In my view, this is only due to the fact that RM intervened, ' Lopes wrote in an email about his then-boss. "I have told R.M.", he wrote, referring to the senator by his initials.

"Only if United States senators advocate on their behalf", Lopes said.

Lopes is expected to continue under cross-examination Tuesday, and prosecutors are likely to call another witness or witnesses with experience in visa applications.

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. The three-night stay at the Park Hyatt in Paris is one of several instances in which Menendez accepted gifts from Melgen, according to the indictment. 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.

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. But prosecutors suggested it would never happen since the senator used nearly all his points in 2013 to get a Weber grill.

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