Dominican model takes stand in Menendez corruption trial

U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez talks to reporters last week as he arrives to court for his federal corruption trial in Newark N.J. as his daughter Alicia Menendez looks

Defense attorneys cited one other example, in March 2008, when Menendez wrote to the former ambassador to Columbia, William Brownfield, to vouch for a family seeking to visit the U.S. It was not clear if the family had a connection to New Jersey. Bob Menendez said Monday at the lawmaker's and a Florida ophthalmologist's bribery trial that the senator directed him in 2008 to assist with visa applications for the doctor's alleged girlfriends, but defense counsel noted that Menendez provided similar advocacy that same year for unrelated applicants.

When Lopes finished a second day of testimony, Polanco Suero took the witness stand and described how she asked for Melgen's help after the USA embassy denied her initial visa request.

During questioning of Svitlana Buchyk, prosecutors showed she had dinner with Melgen and Menendez in Miami, and Melgen joked that Menendez was the person who obtained her visa for her.

J.P. Cooney, deputy chief of the Justice Department's public integrity section, walked Lopes through a series of email exchanges that he had with other members of Menendez's staff, as well as with Melgen, about the status of the women's visa applications and interviews. It was conducted by a more senior embassy official, and the sisters' visas were approved on the spot, she testified. Instead, they say, Menendez later redeemed his points for a Weber Genesis grill, which was sent to a New Jersey address, and never paid his debt.

"For something so small as this it really degrades his reputation", prosecutors said of the email, which referenced Menendez "trying to help get visas for women from the DR (Dominican Republic) for Sal M".

Menendez responded, "Yes, as well as call, if necessary".

Menendez wrote a letter in support of Polanco's tourist visa application, the court was told, and after it was dismissed he asked to speak with the ambassador directly.

"He wanted me to be proactive about advocating the outcome that he sought and didn't want to wait for a response", Lopes said. He recalled the case of a Colombian family, also in 2008, in which Menendez called a US ambassador in support of the family's application. He said that he faxed the letter of support to the ambassador 10 minutes ago.

Favors include Menendez helping his married pal secure visas for three of his foreign girlfriends, prosecutors have said.

In a 2010 email, Menendez promised to reimburse Salomon for 650,000 AmEx points he used to buy the senator a three-night stay at a Paris hotel.

Lawyers for Menendez accept that he offered official help to Melgen, but say this was because of a decades-long friendship, and not in return for payment.

Justice Department attorney Amanda Vaughn guided Thomas through a number of credit card and rewards statements from both Menendez and Melgen, specifically highlighting the almost 650,000 points Melgen used to secure a room for Menendez at the Park Hyatt hotel in Paris - a number that far surpassed the roughly 59,000 points Menendez had accumulated at the time.

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