Dominican police say women paid to accuse senator

AP News
Posted: Mar 18, 2013 6:49 PM

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (AP) — Three women were paid to falsely claim in videotaped interviews that they had sex for money with a U.S. senator in the Dominican Republic, a spokesman for the police said Monday.

The women, whose claims generated media attention in the United States, were hired by a Dominican attorney to make the videotaped statements, spokesman Maximo Baez told reporters. Two of the women received about $425 and the other was paid about $300, he said.

Authorities are seeking to interrogate the attorney, Melanio Figueroa, about the payments and have not determined his motive or whether he was in turn paid by someone else to set up the interviews, Baez said.

The women have not been detained.

The police spokesman was making his most detailed comments to date on an investigation into the source of allegations that U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez had sex with prostitutes, including two who were underage at the time, while in the Dominican Republic with his friend and campaign contributor, Dr. Salomon Melgen, a south Florida doctor, and with Vinicio Castillo Seman, an attorney whose family is politically prominent in the Dominican Republic. Castillo and Menendez have denied hiring prostitutes.

Castillo, a cousin of Melgen, requested the investigation into what he said were "false and defamatory" accusations.

Jose Polanco, a prosecutor in the town of La Romana, said he interviewed all three women and also determined that none was underage at the time of the supposed encounters with the senator.

A spokeswoman for Menendez, Tricia Enright, said she hopes U.S. authorities will also investigate to determine who was behind the production of the videos as well as similar allegations sent to the FBI. She cited an ABC News report that "Republican operatives," had offered them the interviews but they determined the women were not credible and did not report the allegations.

"The evidence released today by Dominican law enforcement authorities proves what we have said all along: that the smear campaign against Sen. Menendez is based on lies, lies we now know were paid for by interests whose identities have not yet been fully disclosed," Enright said.

Two of the videotaped interviews with the women were published on a conservative Washington website as Menendez ran for re-election in November. The allegations gained wider attention after federal agents searched Melgen's office and the senator acknowledged that he failed to reimburse $58,000 for two flights on a private jet for trips to the Dominican Republic.

Menendez is being investigated by a Miami federal grand jury for his role in advocating for Melgen's business interests, according to The Washington Post. Enright has said the senator has acted appropriately and has predicted he will be cleared by any review.