TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Sen. Bob Menendez's legal defense fund raised nearly $1.3 million up until the day before he was indicted on bribery and corruption charges, including $10,000 from a retired New Jersey developer who served two years in prison for making illegal kickbacks.
Menendez's fund also received $10,000 from the wife of the developer, Joseph Barry, and another $130,000 from executives of the development firm founded by Barry's two sons, and their families, according to a review by The Associated Press of financial disclosure forms filed with the IRS and Senate.
The fund had paid for about $850,000 in legal expenses through March 31, the day before Menendez was indicted on 14 counts accusing him of using his influence to help a Florida eye doctor in exchange for lavish vacations and campaign donations. He has pleaded not guilty and has vowed to fight the charges.
Menendez's chief of staff, Fred Turner, called the Barrys "longtime friends and supporters of the senator" and said that Menendez has no issue accepting money from them.
"He is deeply appreciative for their support and their friendship," Turner said Thursday.
The legal fund has also paid $20,000 to Samantha Maltzman, a fundraiser who resigned last year from a political advocacy group, backed by President Barack Obama, after inviting a New Jersey donor to a dinner with the president and listing prices to attend. Turner said the longtime Democratic fundraiser is "one of the most well respected and effective fundraising professionals in the country" and that Menendez "is grateful to have her working on his behalf."
The legal defense fund is just one part of Menendez's response to the yearslong investigation, which also includes a coordinated public relations campaign to support him through what is likely to be a long and expensive legal fight. Details on money raised and spent since April 1, the day a slick IStandWithBob.com website launched, aren't yet publicly available.
Barry was sentenced to 25 months in prison in 2004 for giving nearly $115,000 in payoffs to longtime Hudson County Executive Robert Janiszewski after getting his help to obtain government funding. The money went toward building the Shipyard project, which turned a former Bethlehem Steel plant into high-end housing and retail that helped reshape the waterfront in Hoboken.
That project is now owned by Ironstate Development Corp., which Barry's sons started after he retired from the company. Ironstate has developed high-end mixed use projects across New Jersey and New York.
The sons, Michael and David, contributed the annual maximum of $10,000 in both 2014 and 2015, as did both of their wives. David Barry's college-age daughter, and Joseph Barry's daughter, contributed the maximum this year. Two other Ironstate employees donated a combined $30,000.
The money contributed by the Barrys and Ironstate employees represents about a quarter of the money raised between Jan. 1 and March 31.
David and Michael Barry also donated $5,200 each to Menendez's Senate campaign last year.
Messages left with Barry family members weren't returned on Thursday.
Craig Holman, a government affairs lobbyist for nonprofit watchdog group Public Citizen, described the Barry contributions as a "coordinated, orchestrated bundling campaign."
"This is very unbecoming of the senator to rely on these types of sources for his funds and for raising funds from others," Holman said. "It really raises some questions as to his ability to discern the potentially corrupting influence of money."
Among the other contributions to the legal defense fund are more than $177,000 given by members of the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC, including $157,500 donated on one day alone — April 14, 2014. Menendez has been a strong supporter of Israel and a leading proponent of sanctions on Iran.
The fund has also received $20,000 from Jorge Mas, chairman of the board of the Cuban American National Foundation, a leading anti-Cuban government group based in Miami. Menendez has been a chief opponent of the Obama administration's policy on Cuba.
Menendez's Senate political action committee has also donated the maximum $20,000 over two years.
Maltzman is a Menendez campaign staffer and began getting paid by the fund in August, five months after she resigned from Organizing for America after emails surfaced between her and a major donor that conflicted with the group's longstanding assertion that its supporters don't have to pay a set price to attend its summits with the president.
The emails also raised questions about whether Dr. Munr Kazmir and another donor he recruited stood to benefit from securing face time with Obama or his aides.
The group said it had returned a check for $100,000 that Joseph Piacentile mailed to the group after Kazmir encouraged him to donate. When it discovered that Piacentile was convicted of Medicare fraud in the 1990s and was reportedly seeking a presidential pardon, the group returned the check.
Maltzman didn't return an email and phone message seeking comment.
Menendez's co-defendant, Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen, was charged this week with trying to bilk Medicare out of as much as $190 million. He pleaded not guilty Thursday.
Associated Press writer Jill Colvin, in Londonderry, New Hampshire, contributed to this story.
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