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Menendez Sets Up Legal Fund After $250,000 Legal Bills

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Feb. 3 (Bloomberg) -- U.S. Senator Robert Menendez, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, is opening a legal expense fund after paying a law firm $250,000 last year for fees related to ethics investigations.

The Menendez campaign paid the $250,000 to Chicago-based McDermott Will & Emery LLP, according to Tricia Enright, a spokeswoman for the New Jersey Democrat. The new legal fund is approved by the Senate Ethics Committee and all the money will be publicly disclosed, Enright said yesterday in an e-mail.

The legal costs relate to Justice Department and Senate Ethics Committee investigations into Menendez’s ties to a campaign donor, the Associated Press reported Jan. 31. Menendez confirmed the probes, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported Feb. 1, citing an affidavit signed by the senator.

“We have incurred significant expenses to respond to the smear campaign that was launched by right-wing operatives,” Enright said, without citing any organizations or allegations.

Menendez denied wrongdoing Jan. 24 after NBC 4 New York reported the Justice Department was probing his efforts to help two bankers living in Florida avoid extradition to Ecuador. Investigators are examining whether he broke laws in trying to help William and Roberto Isaias stay in the U.S., NBC said, citing current and former U.S. officials it didn’t name.

Private Flight

The brothers were convicted in absentia for embezzling millions of dollars from Filanbanco, which they ran before it collapsed, NBC said. Menendez wrote letters and made phone calls to the State Department and Department of Homeland Security on behalf of the brothers, who are seeking permanent residence in the U.S., NBC reported.

Menendez last year denied allegations that he helped Salomon Melgen, a Florida eye doctor and political donor, by intervening in a Medicare-billing dispute and aiding Melgen’s company to enforce a port security contract in the Dominican Republic. Melgen had been the subject of a Medicare probe, and U.S. agents twice raided his offices.

Enright said yesterday the campaign didn’t pay Melgen for a private flight because of an error by the campaign. Menendez took a commercial flight to Miami for a series of campaign fundraisers and meetings on Jan. 28, 2011, and returned to New Jersey two days later aboard Melgen’s plane, she said.

The Florida trip was related to a campaign and wasn’t a personal flight, which means Menendez needed to pay for it out of campaign funds, Enright said.

“Due to an oversight, the campaign did not reimburse Dr. Melgen for the cost of that flight at the time,” she said. “When that oversight was discovered at the end of 2013, Senator Menendez directed his campaign to immediately reimburse Dr. Melgen $11,250 for the cost of the flight.”

Melgen told Bloomberg in April his business interests never benefited from his friendship with Menendez and that he broke no laws.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jeff Kearns in Washington at jkearns3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chris Wellisz at cwellisz@bloomberg.net