A former senior staffer for Robert Menendez was anxious that the politician was "degrading" himself by helping his wealthy pal get visas for his foreign girlfriends, it emerged at the senator's corruption trial Tuesday.
Prosecutors sought to flesh out two different instances in which they alleged Menendez attempted to secure travel visas for Melgen's foreign girlfriends - one from Brazil and the other from the Dominican Republic - to visit him in the United States.
Mark Lopes, Menendez" former aide, said he was ordered to call the ambassador "asap' to sort out a visa for Brazilian Rosiell Polanco, 22, and her sister so they could visit Dr. Salomon Melgen, 63, over the Christmas holidays in 2008.
One of the sisters was described by federal prosecutors as a girlfriend of Florida ophthalmologist Salomon Melgen, a longtime friend of Menendez's.
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Menendez is accused of taking official actions for Melgen in exchange for private jet trips, vacations and campaign contributions.
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.
"RM does not need to be calling U.S. ambassadors about stuff like this", former senior staffer Mark Lopes said in an email to another legislative aide, according to prosecutors. Prosecutors are seeking to show it was Menendez's improper influence that pushed the visa through.
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.
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The Democrat senator also advocated for visas on behalf of lawyer Juliana Lopes Leite and Ukrainian model Svitlana Buchyk who were also dating Melgen, the New York Post reports.
"I am scared of saying things to them", she said. Menendez then allegedly intervened and had Lopes call the ambassador to the Dominican Republic to resolve the situation.
"When asked by Cooney about why Menendez was so actively involved in reaching out to the ambassador and embassy about the visas, Lopes said that "(Menendez) wanted to be proactive about advocating to the outcome that he sought and didn't want to wait for a response". Melgen offered the senator payouts in exchange for official favors, according to prosecutors. Earlier Monday, a vice president for American Express testified Melgen used about 650,000 AmEx points to pay for a Paris hotel room for Menendez in 2010.
Although Menendez had said in an email to Melgen that he planned to pay him back once he accumulated enough of his own points, a review of the senator's American Express account showed that it would have taken him 30 years to do so. That family had no connection to Melgen, attorneys said. But prosecutors suggested it would never happen since the senator used nearly all his points in 2013 to get a Weber grill. 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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