U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez’s longtime friendship with a wealthy Palm Beach County eye doctor may soon come back to haunt the powerful Democrat from New Jersey.
The Department of Justice plans to file corruption charges against Menendez in the coming weeks, capping a two-year probe of his relationship with ophthalmologist Salomon Melgen, CNN and several major news outlets reported on Friday. And Melgen — a generous donor of trips and campaign money to Menendez — is under a separate investigation himself by a federal grand jury in West Palm Beach on allegations that his practice over-billed Medicare by millions of dollars.
Prosecutors and the FBI have been focusing on Menendez’s efforts on behalf of his political benefactor, including personally trying to resolve the physician’s high-stakes billing dispute with the taxpayer-funded Medicare program. During the period the senator sought to help the doctor, Menendez went on several trips with Melgen to the Dominican Republic on the physician’s private plane and stayed at his resort-area home in 2010 — all without reporting the gifts.
As the controversy about their relationship escalated two years ago, the senator quietly wrote a personal check to reimburse Melgen for the unreported trips, but that didn’t end several on-going federal probes.
On Friday evening, Menendez insisted during a news conference in his home state that he has done nothing wrong.
“Let me be very clear, I have always conducted myself appropriately and in accordance with the law,” he said. “Every action that I and my office have taken for the last 23 years that I have been privileged to be in the United States Congress has been based on pursuing the best policies for the people of New Jersey and this entire country.”
2. A businessman who helped smuggle Yasiel Puig to the U.S. was sentenced to 1 month by Judge Scola. From Curt Anderson:
A businessman who helped Los Angeles Dodgers star Yasiel Puig get out of Cuba to sign a rich American baseball contract was sentenced Friday to a month in prison and five months' house arrest for violating U.S. immigration laws.
U.S. District Judge Robert Scola on Friday gave Gilberto Suarez, 41, less than the one-year maximum partly because his main role in the 2012 smuggling venture was having Puig driven in a taxi from Mexico City to the Texas border. Other conspirators, including boat captains and members of Mexico's violent Zetas drug gang, were involved in other stages of the trip.
Scola also said he was showing Suarez some leniency because Puig and others in the smuggling trip were threatened by the Zetas and possibly by corrupt Mexican police.
"I think the safety of the player and the other aliens was also paramount in his mind," the judge said.
Defense attorney Bijan Parwaresch said Suarez initially sought only to assist Puig in signing a Major League Baseball contract. Cuban players who defect often establish residency in a third country, such as Mexico, so they can sign lucrative free agent deals rather than smaller contracts if they come directly to the U.S. and are subjected to baseball's draft.
Where Suarez went wrong, he added, was deciding to take Puig to the U.S. border without immigration papers. Under the "wet foot, dry foot" policy, Cubans who reach U.S. territory are usually permitted to stay, even if their arrival is violates the law.
"It didn't start out with a criminal intent," Parwaresch said at a hearing. "It ended up as a criminal action."
3. Lazer Collazo to plead guilty to a misdemeanor, Jay Weaver reports:
Prominent Miami-Dade County baseball coach Lazaro “Lazer” Collazo plans to plead guilty to newly filed misdemeanor charges of possessing unlawful steroids, according to his defense attorney.
Collazo was among eight defendants who were originally charged in federal court with conspiring to distribute steroids through a Coral Gables anti-aging clinic, which was at the center of a Major League Baseball scandal.
Collazo, 51, was accused of distributing them to high school athletes, while the other seven were charged with supplying them to MLB players — including New York Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez, a onetime Miami-Dade high school standout.
Collazo’s defense attorney, Frank Quintero, confirmed Friday to the Miami Herald that his client has agreed to the terms of a plea deal with the U.S. attorney’s office that would recommend two years of probation. His change of plea hearing is scheduled for March 16.
4. SCOTUSblog got a day pass to the press box last week. Volokh has the story on the interesting work around:
A little wrinkle in the long-running quest of the renowned SCOTUSblog to secure credentials for its coverage of the Supreme Court: Today SCOTUSblog correspondent Amy Howe sat in the court’s press section by virtue of a day pass that the court has begun issuing to the blog. It’s the second such pass that SCOTUSblog has used, according to Publisher Tom Goldstein — with the first instance being Monday’s oral arguments on Arizona’s approach to redistricting.
“They have really tried to accommodate us,” says SCOTUSblog’s Goldstein. “They’re not trying to get in our way.”
SCOTUSblog has expended a grueling effort for credentials in the Supreme Court chamber, a process complicated by Goldstein himself: He’s both the publisher of the blog as well as a frequent Supreme Court practitioner as a partner in Goldstein & Russell, P.C. Just last month, the high court issued a new policy on press credentials that officially stiff-arms SCOTUSblog on getting its own credential but should make room for its veteran correspondent, Lyle Denniston, to continue covering proceedings with what’s known as a “hard pass.”
Denniston, a 57-year veteran of high court reporting, has long held his hard pass pursuant to his association with Boston NPR station WBUR. He’s now applying for a new pass under the auspices of his independent blog, “Lyle Denniston Law News.”
Here’s how the workaround operates: Denniston’s posts appear first on his eponymous blog, unedited. Then SCOTUSblog staff picks them up, edits them and posts a version on SCOTUSblog. Not all of the content on Denniston’s blog makes this migration. The arrangement allows the court to ensure that Denniston is acting as an independent journalist for his own outlet and not as an agent of Goldstein’s firm through SCOTUSblog, says Goldstein.
The day passes also help. Today, SCOTUSblog correspondent Howe used it to take in the entire oral argument in King v. Burwell, the much-watched case that threatens federal subsidies in 30-odd states that declined to set up their own health-care exchanges. Howe teamed up with a well-coordinated SCOTUSblog team, as Denniston also reported from the press section and two other SCOTUSbloggers took in the proceedings via piped-in audio in the Supreme Court’s lawyers’ lounge.