Menendez: Ex-Menendez fund-raiser called to testify in probe

Ex-Menendez fund-raiser called to testify in probe

12/13/2006  Newhouse News Service

Federal authorities have subpoenaed U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez's former campaign fund-raiser to testify before a federal grand jury, raising the prospect that their investigation into one of his personal real estate deals may be expanding into other areas.

Dannielle Leigh, 32, of Hoboken, was subpoenaed to testify before a federal grand jury in Newark late last month but has not yet made an appearance, according to her attorney, Remi Spencer.

The attorney declined to elaborate, other than to say that Leigh, who abruptly quit Menendez's campaign earlier this year but remains active in Democratic politics, "never reached out to federal authorities" and was instead approached by them earlier this year. She also said authorities have assured her that Leigh is not suspected of wrongdoing.

Spencer declined to say whether Leigh has been inter-viewed by federal authorities since the subpoena, but a source familiar with the matter said she has. It is unclear: what specific information authorities are seeking.

Allyn Brooks-LaSure, a spokesman for Menendez, said, "We remain confident that following any review conducted by the U.S. attorney, he will conclude that all transactions were appropriate and legal."

Michael Drewniak, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office, declined to comment.

Federal authorities have been examining rental payments from the nonprofit North Hudson Community Actibn Corp. to Menendez.  Menendez leased a house he owned in Union City to NHCAC between 1994 and 2003, collecting more than $300,000 in rent. During that period, Menendez represented most of Hudson County in the U.S. House of Representatives and helped the agency win millions of dollars in federal health care funds.

The agency's employees also have contributed more than $30,000 to Menendez's campaigns over the years. Michael Leggiero, the long-time head of the agency, contributed $9,000 to Menendez's accounts before he died last year.

Last week, two witnesses testified in the case before a special grand jury that was impaneled to investigate various public corruption matters in the state. One of the witnesses had purchased the house from Menendez; the other is an official with the nonprofit.

Leigh began working for Menendez in 2000- six years after the lease agreement began. She was his finance di-rector and helped raise money for his congressional 'campaigns before Menendez was appointed to the U.S. Senate by Gov. Jon Corzine in January.

In April, Leigh abruptly quit, just as Menendez was starting his successful bid for a six-year Senate term.

Campaign officials said that on the day she resigned she was paid roughly $20,000 in back pay and bonuses for reaching fund-raising targets.

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