Nightly News   |  February 02, 2013

FBI investigates NJ senator's donor

A doctor who has contributed to Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey is the subject of a federal investigation of possible health care fraud and public corruption. NBC’s Michael Isikoff reports.

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>>> back in this country, democratic senator bob menendez of new jersey has come under scrutiny for his relationship with a wealthy florida doctor who was a big donor to the senator and other democratic causes. nbc 's national investigative correspondent michael isikoff has more tonight.

>> reporter: just as senator bob menendez takes over the powerful senate foreign relations committee --

>> will come to order.

>> reporter: -- the spotlight has come to this, fbi agents in florida hauling away boxes from the offices of one of his top political fundraisers, solomon melgen. law enforcement sources tell nbc news that melgen, a wealthy eye doctor who with his family has donated more than $38,000 to menendez , is now the subject of a federal investigation into possible health care fraud and public corruption. election records show that in addition to the $38,000 contributions, melgen's eye clinic starting last june pumped $700,000 into a democratic super pac that spent heavily to support the re-election of menendez . in august, menendez pressed federal officials to back a port security contract in the dominican republic that could earn millions for one of melgen's companies.

>> it sure looks like the senator is using his office to financially benefit the company that is owned by his biggest contributor.

>> reporter: menendez ' office says the senator's interest was only in clamping down on drug trafficking . the senator also took flights aboard melgen's private jet to a resort in the dominican republic and never reported them on his financial disclosure form, triggering this ethics complaint from new jersey republicans. menendez ' office this week acknowledged the senator wrote a $58,500 personal check to melgen in january to reimburse him for the flights two months after the complaint was filed.

>> it's either a very significant oversight or a willful failure to disclose, and that's what the senate ethics committee will be looking at.

>> reporter: in the statement the senator's office also refuted other allegations made on a conservative website that menendez met with prostitutes in the dominican republic . those allegations, his office says, are manufactured, politically motivated, and false. menendez brushed aside the questions.

>> comments should go to my office. these are nameless, faceless, anonymous allegations.

>> reporter: a well placed source tells nbc news senate democratic leaders have privately huddled about the potential fallout but so far they're publicly sticking by menendez , and melgen's lawyer said in an e-mail we are confident that dr. melgen has acted appropriately at all times. michael isikoff , nbc news, washington.