SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (AP) — A prominent Dominican lawyer who has been accused of hosting outings on his yacht in which a New Jersey senator used the services of prostitutes strongly denied the allegations Monday and said he would seek a criminal investigation into the source of the reports.
U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez on Monday issued his own denial of the allegations from Washington, calling them false "smears."
The attorney, Vinicio Castillo Seman, says the allegations, published in U.S. media and on the Internet, are "absurd." He filed a formal complaint with the district attorney of Santo Domingo, a step that typically triggers a criminal investigation under the legal system of the Caribbean country.
A prosecutor was scheduled to meet with Castillo on Tuesday to discuss his complaint, according to the district attorney's office.
Castillo, the son of a presidential adviser and the brother of a member of the Congress, called a news conference to discuss what he called the "false and defamatory" allegations that his yacht was the scene of encounters involving prostitutes, two of whom were underage, hired for the use of Menendez.
He said he has known the U.S. senator for about 15 years and had never seen him with a prostitute.
"I have never seen him behave in any way that was not impeccable and dignified," Castillo said.
The senator met with reporters in Washington on Monday and acknowledged that he flew on the doctor's private plane to the Dominican Republic. But Menendez denied meeting with prostitutes and blamed the allegation on political enemies.
A watchdog group called Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW, said it had received emails starting in April 2012 alleging that Menendez used the services of prostitutes from 2009-2010 in the Dominican Republic, and that two of them may have been 16, which would be illegal in both the Dominican Republic and the U.S., which prohibits people from traveling overseas to engage in sex with minors. The emails came from someone identified as "Peter Williams," though that may be a pseudonym.
The tipster said the senator traveled to the Dominican Republic in the private plane of Dr. Salomon Melgen, a Florida eye doctor of Dominican descent who is a prominent Democratic campaign contributor, and that the encounters with the prostitutes occurred in homes owned by Melgen and in a yacht owned by Castillo.
Castillo said he has never hosted any parties involving prostitutes on his boat and never lent it to Melgen. The accounts are "absurd," he said.
"It's absolutely false and slanderous to say that I have been on trips or at parties with underage prostitutes with Sen. Robert Menendez and Dr. Salomon Melgen," he said.
CREW said it investigated the allegations, but was unable to prove or disprove them and sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice asking for an investigation. A conservative website, The Daily Caller, then published the allegations, which drew more attention after Melgen's offices in South Florida were recently raided by U.S. federal agents. The FBI has declined to say why it searched Melgen's office or whether he is under investigation.
In a series of emails sent to CREW, the person identified as Williams provided names, numbers and an address for some of the alleged prostitutes. The phone numbers are not in service except in one case in which the woman who has the number says she has no connection to any of the parties involved in the allegations and is not a prostitute. The names of the alleged prostitutes in the emails are either nicknames or common and The Associated Press has been unable to locate any of them.
Castillo said the episode is a "smear campaign," intended to scuttle a contract for port security by a company controlled by Melgen.
The Dominican Republic, which has become a busy transit point for drugs destined for the United States and Europe, has only one X-ray to screen port cargo. It was donated by the United States.
A company called I.C.S.S.I. signed a contract in 2002 to provide screening throughout the country but the government suspended it in 2004 before it went into effect amid claims that it was too expensive and the bid process had not been competitive. A company run by Melgen bought the company in 2011 and he has been seeking to reinstate the contract, which has been tied up in the courts.
"It's evident that drug traffickers and their powerful allies in our country have no interest in the use in seeing this technology implemented in our ports," he said.