The small island nation in the Caribbean has been in the news recently because Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) flew there twice in 2010 on the private plane of a friend and political donor, and failed to pay for the flights, which cost a total $58,500.
Also, in a CNN interview on Monday, Menendez vehemently denied allegations that he had engaged in sexual trysts with prostitutes in the Dominican Republic. On Jan. 4, Menendez reimbursed his friend, Dr. Salomon E. Melgen, a Florida eye surgeon, for the two flights in 2010.
The Senate Ethics Committee in investigating whether Menendez acted inappropriately in not reporting the plane trips. Last week, the FBI raided the West Palm Beach, Fla., office of Dr. Melgen.
According to the Country Reports on Human Rights 2011, the most recent of the annual country reports released by the U.S. State Department, “child prostitution and other abuses of children, trafficking in persons” are among the criminal and social problems occurring in the Dominican Republic.
The report also identifies “sex tourism” as a problem.
“Sex tourism existed throughout the country, particularly in Las Terrenas, Cabarete, Sosua, and Boca Chica,” reads the State Department report. “NGOs [non-governmental organizations] conducted education and awareness programs on the problem for hotel and industrial zone workers, male and female prostitutes, and other high-risk groups.”
Prostitution is legal in the Dominican Republic. But child prostitution is illegal, according to the State Department.
A third flight in 2010 by Menendez aboard Melgen's plane was a campaign fund-raising journey to the donor's residence in the Dominican Republic. That trip was reported to the Federal Election Commission, the AP reported.
However, Menendez categorized the other two trips as personal; one from Aug. 6-9, 2010, a round trip from South Florida to the Dominican Republic; another from Sept. 3-6, 2010, from New Jersey to the Dominican Republic and back.