Bribes, Payoffs, Politics: Tapes could be trouble for Menendez

Tapes could be trouble for Menendez
September 28, 2006  Bergen Record

The psychiatrist at the center of recent Hudson County corruption cases recorded U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez's close ally invoking the powerful Democrat's name while pressuring the doctor to divvy up county contracts, he and several others said Wednesday.

Dr. Oscar Sandoval, who bribed and then helped imprison a former county executive, said he made tapes that back up his earlier allegations that attorney and Menendez friend Donald Scarinci ordered him to share his county jail contracts with another physician, or else lose them.

Scarinci suggested that he was relaying the wishes of Menendez, Sandoval has alleged in court papers.

"There is a tape in which Donald Scarinci refers to Menendez," said Sandoval's lawyer, Tomas Espinosa. He added, "There is more than one tape."

Sandoval would not detail the contents of the tapes other than to say they would be damaging to Menendez, a longtime congressman appointed to the Senate in January and now campaigning for a full term.

Several Democratic insiders confirmed Sandoval's characterization of the recordings. One person close to the Menendez campaign and familiar with some of the content called it "really embarrassing" to Menendez.

But a spokesman for Menendez distanced the senator from any comments Scarinci might have made on tape.

"If your report is accurate, it shows Scarinci speaking for himself and himself only, not for Bob Menendez," said the spokesman, Matt Miller.

Scarinci could not be reached for comment Wednesday. In March, the attorney called Sandoval's allegations "ridiculous."

With the election a little more than a month away, Miller blamed the Sandoval revelation on the "smear machine" working for Republican Senate candidate Tom Kean Jr., who has repeatedly accused Menendez of corruption. Kean's spokeswoman could not be reached for comment.

"Oscar Sandoval seduced one of his psychiatric patients and used her to bribe a public official for millions of dollars in contracts," Miller said. "He has no credibility."

To keep his profitable contracts for psychiatric services at the Hudson County Jail, Sandoval passed bribes to County Executive Robert Janiszewski through his paramour-patient, then-Hudson County Freeholder Nidia Davila-Colon. Sandoval ultimately cooperated with federal authorities in the prosecutions that put both officials in prison.

Sandoval made inflammatory claims about Scarinci and other Hudson County political figures in a countersuit filed earlier this year, and Espinosa said he might add Menendez as a defendant in the matter. The claim responded to Hudson County's suit against Sandoval, which sought to recover losses due to corruption under Janiszewski.

Among numerous other allegations, Sandoval's countersuit claims that Scarinci contacted him in 1999 to tell him that "then-Congressman Robert Menendez would very much appreciate if Dr. Sandoval would rehire" a doctor whom Sandoval had fired. Scarinci suggested that he would protect Sandoval's contract from Janiszewski if he did as he was told.

"The protection furnished by Scarinci to Dr. Sandoval was at the price of making Dr. Vicente Ruiz Dr. Sandoval's equal partner in the contract with the county and in any future product of Sandoval," the countersuit alleges. It adds that Ruiz told Sandoval that he must split the proceeds of the contract "three ways" among "himself, Ruiz and the last part for Scarinci and Menendez."

The Sandoval papers further allege that Menendez personally appeared at the end of a meeting of the two doctors with Scarinci in the lawyer's office "and stated that he was glad we could work out our difference and could work together."

But Menendez's spokesman said the senator "doesn't recall ever being in any such meeting."

Miller added of Sandoval, "He's being sued by a county trying to get money back that he stole. I'm not sur- prised that he'd make outlandish claims."

Sandoval said Wednesday that he had released the contents of one tape to a newspaper. He said he has other, more damaging tapes that he also plans to publicize.

As news of the tapes spread Wednesday, some Democrats grew concerned about whether their contents could damage Menendez's candidacy. One insider said the tapes would cause Menendez real political trouble, but added that the senator's campaign plans to respond aggressively.

Another Democratic insider said the tapes might offer little more than a textbook example of classic Hudson County political swagger with no evidence that Menendez played a role. "This may just be another Norcross scenario," this person said, referring to South Jersey Democratic power broker George E. Norcross III.

In tapes that surfaced during last year's gubernatorial campaign, Norcross boasted of a close relationship with Jon Corzine, then a Democratic U.S. senator seeking the governor's office. Corzine won the election and appointed Menendez to serve the last year of his Senate term.

Corzine, however, had an up-and-down relationship with Norcross over the course of a relatively short political career. Scarinci's long-standing and close relationship with Menendez is well established.


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