Ex-Menendez Aide Says Senator’s Reputation Was Hurt by Effort to Secure Visas

  • Senator’s staff urged diplomat to help sisters, witness says
  • Menendez accused of exchanging official acts for luxuries

Senator Robert Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey, listens during a Senate Finance Committee hearing in Washington on Jan. 19, 2017.

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Senator Robert Menendez’s intervention with a U.S. 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.

The woman was trying to enter the U.S. in 2008 to visit Salomon Melgen, a Florida eye doctor who is on trial with Menendez. The senator ordered his staff to contact the U.S. 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,” the former aide, Mark Lopes, wrote to a colleague, according to an email shown Tuesday in federal court in Newark. “It damages Menendez’s reputation to take something like this all the way to the ambassador.”

Three weeks after Menendez sought help from the ambassador, the woman, Rosiell Polanco Suero, and her younger sister, obtained visas to visit Melgen, 63, for Christmas in South Florida.

“In my view, this is ONLY DUE to the fact that RM intervened,” Lopes wrote to his colleague. “I’ve told RM.” 

Visa Request

Menendez is accused of taking official actions for Melgen in exchange for private jet trips, vacations and campaign contributions. Both men deny wrongdoing and say that they’ve been friends for 25 years and had no intent to act illegally.

When Lopes finished a second day of testimony, Polanco Suero took the witness stand and described how she asked for Melgen’s help after the U.S. embassy denied her initial visa request. She recounted a phone call in which the doctor said he would seek Menendez’s assistance.

“He told me he was going to try to fix it,” Polanco Suero told jurors. “He was going to talk to the senator.”

About a week later, Polanco Suero got a call from the embassy inviting her and her sister to a second interview, she said. It was conducted by a more senior embassy official, and the sisters’ visas were approved on the spot, she testified.

Another woman, Svitlana Buchyk, then testified about how she got a visa in 2007 after the senator’s staff intervened. Buchyk, who the U.S. described as a Ukrainian model and actress, testified that Melgen introduced Melendez to her at a Miami dinner as “a person who helped with your visa.”

Six Languages

Buchyk, who said she grew up in Spain and speaks six languages, was visibly uncomfortable on the witness stand and appeared intent on dispelling the government’s assertion that she had traveled to the U.S. as Melgen’s girlfriend.

Buchyk described Melgen as a "family friend" and said she’d sought a visa to travel to the U.S. with her mother, who needed surgery.  

“I don’t know why I’m here," she told jurors. She said she had spent 18 to 20 hours with prosecutors.

When informed that her brief testimony was over, Buchyk, wearing a dark jacket and jeans, exclaimed, "I’m done?” Told again she was finished, she said, “Wow!” and left the courtroom.

The case is U.S. v. Menendez, 15-cr-155, U.S. District Court, District of New Jersey (Newark). 

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