If you're the type of guy who has lots of girlfriends in developing countries, it helps to have a buddy who is a U.S. senator to expedite travel visas. And if your friend happens to be New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez, consider it done.
Dr. Salomon Melgen, the Palm Beach eye doctor who is at the center of the ethics scandal dogging Menendez, is the true Mr. Worldwide, with girlfriends on at least three continents. And according to the Department of Justice charging Menendez with several ethics violations, the senator helped Melgen, who has donated at least $1 million and many lavish gifts to the senator, to bring four women into the country, from Brazil, the Dominican Republic, and Ukraine.
The first girlfriend, referred to as “Girlfriend 1” in the charging documents, is from Brazil. Back in 2007, Melgen wanted his Brazilian actress, model, and lawyer gal pal to get a higher education in South Florida, so he had her apply for an LLM program — a Master's of Law degree popular with international students — at the University of Miami. But that requires a student visa, which is difficult to get for those who aren't pals with Menendez.
On July 24, 2008, the day before Girlfriend 1's visa appointment at the U.S. embassy in Brasilia, Menendez's senior policy adviser emailed the Deputy Assistant Secretary at Visa Services about the application.
“[Girlfriend 1] (no relation to me) has her visa application appointment in Brasilia, Brazil, tomorrow. I understand she is an attorney in Brazil and is coming to the U.S. on a student visa with support from Dr. Solomon [sic] Melgen. Sen. Menendez would like to advocate unconditionally for Dr. Melgen and encourage careful consideration of [Girlfriend 1]'s visa application.”
The visa was approved the next day.
Melgen's generosity to pay for tuition, room, and board of a Brazilian model was helped through the good doctor's Sal Melgen Foundation, a nonprofit organization that aims to “help with the educational needs of disadvantaged persons” and “assist with the economic educational needs of children in developing countries and the U.S.”
Melgen actually had Girlfriend 1 fill out an application to receive funds from the nonprofit. In an email to her, he said it was important “since we will make the check payable from the foundation and IRS is very strict.”
Melgen helped further the education of his disadvantaged girlfriend with trips to Spain and his Dominican villa.
Although Melgen got his Brazilian girlfriend into the country easily, things were a little trickier for two other women he wanted to bring to the U.S.
In October 2008, with the Brazilian girlfriend probably starting classes, Melgen wrote a letter to the U.S. embassy in the Dominican Republic urging them to approve the travel visas of two women: a girlfriend he had been seeing since 2005 and her sister. He promised the embassy they wouldn't overstay their visa.
“During their visit here in the United States, I will cover all their expenses and assure that they will return back to Dominican Republic,” he wrote.
Melgen also asked Menendez to do him a solid and “move the letter along,” which the senator, apparently ever eager to help his buddy fly in women from other countries, obliged by writing a letter to the consul general of the U.S. embassy in the D.R.
“[The women] plan to visit someone I know well, Dr. Salomon Melgen, who is an eye doctor in Florida. I appreciate very much your giving these applications all due considerations within the requirements of the law.”
But the letter must not have impressed the consul general, because on November 6, 2008, the women were denied their visas.
Explaining why, an embassy employee wrote: “Siblings, 18 and 22-years-old. No children. No previous travel. To go visit a friend in Florida. Neither is working. No solvency of their own. Not fully convinced of motives of travel.”
Once Menendez got word of the rejection, he quickly got to work to correct this egregious wrong so Melgen can have an 18- and 22-year-old visit him for “tourism” purposes.
“Call Ambassador ASAP,” wrote Menendez to a staffer.
Three weeks later, the women got their travel visas approved and were on their way to visit the Florida eye doctor.
“In my view, this is ONLY DUE to the fact [Menendez] intervened,” wrote a staffer for the senator in an email.
According to the indictment, Menendez had previously met Girlfriend 2 months earlier while staying at Melgen's lavish Dominican villa.
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But Melgen wasn't always all about the Latin girls. Back in 2007, he needed to get a travel visa for his Ukrainian sweetheart, Girlfriend 3. And as always, Menendez was right there to help make that happen.
The day after Valentine's Day 2007, Menendez had his staff draft a letter describing what a great man Melgen is and how his Ukrainian girlfriend will most definitely return home when her visa expires.
It worked. Girlfriend 3 got her visa on February 22, and a few days later, she was having dinner with Melgen and the matchmaking senator in Miami at Azul.
When the threesome met, Melgen introduced Menendez to Girlfriend 3 as the man who helped her with her visa.