Published: Wed, September 13, 2017
Global News | By Stacy Ballard

Staffer anxious Menendez was 'degrading' himself over visas

Staffer anxious Menendez was 'degrading' himself over visas

Senator Robert Menendez's intervention with a US ambassador to help a 22-year-old woman get a visa damaged his reputation, a former aide said in an email shown to jurors at the lawmaker's corruption trial. Bob Menendez testified Tuesday that her visa application was initially denied and then approved expeditiously after the donor told her he would "fix it" by reaching out to "the senator".

On Monday, Lopes testified that that he was instructed to call a United States ambassador to the Dominican Republic "asap" on behalf of Melgen's 22-year-old stunner girlfriend Rosiell Polanco.

One of the sisters was described by federal prosecutors as a girlfriend of Florida ophthalmologist Salomon Melgen, a longtime friend of Menendez's.

Menendez is charged with accepting bribes from Melgen in exchange for political influence.

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Throughout the trial so far, prosecutors have been claiming that despite a friendship between Melgen and Menendez, acts like Menendez seeking visas for foreign girlfriends were part of a quid pro quo agreement between the two.

Defense attorneys want to show Menendez's involvement in the visa applications was something he did normally and that the women received visas on merit. At least, that's what Menendez's former staffer, Mark Lopes, said while testifying against his old boss in court on Monday.

Before the trial began Monday, Menendez attended a ceremony in nearby West Orange, New Jersey, to commemorate the 16th anniversary of the September 11 terror attacks, which killed more than 700 New Jersey residents. Instead, they say, Menendez later redeemed his points for a Weber Genesis grill, which was sent to a New Jersey address, and never paid his debt. "Yes, call if necessary", Menendez emailed back.

"Call ambassador ASAP", Menendez wrote back, according to emails entered into evidence on Monday.

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"He wanted me to be proactive about advocating the outcome that he sought and didn't want to wait for a response", Lopes said. "It damages Menendez's reputation to take something like this all the way to the ambassador".

About a week later, Polanco Suero got a call from the embassy inviting her and her sister to a second interview, she said.

Favors include Menendez helping his married pal secure visas for three of his foreign girlfriends, prosecutors have said. But prosecutors suggested it would never happen since the senator used nearly all his points in 2013 to get a Weber grill.

Brown in particular tangled with Walls at length, raising concerns that the prosecution would likely later use evidence from Lopes' email exchanges against the senator during closing arguments if the defense was not allowed to rebut with evidence of their own on Monday. In 2010, when Melgen used his points to pay for the hotel, Menendez had just 58,000 points on his card.

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Justice Department attorney Amanda Vaughn guided Thomas through a number of credit card and rewards statements from both Menendez and Melgen, specifically highlighting the almost 650,000 points Melgen used to secure a room for Menendez at the Park Hyatt hotel in Paris - a number that far surpassed the roughly 59,000 points Menendez had accumulated at the time.

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