Menendez: More subpoenas in Menendez probe. Feds seek documents on rental, but senator's office denies contact

More subpoenas in Menendez probe
Feds seek documents on rental, but senator's office denies contact

November 11, 2006 Star-Ledger

Federal investigators have resumed their inquiry into a rental deal between U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and a nonprofit agency, issuing new subpoenas in the days after he was elected to a full six-year term, according to a government source.

The subpoenas sought documents related to the more than $300,000 in rent Menendez collected from the North Hudson Community Action Corp. between 1994 and 2003, the source said. It was unclear what records were sought or who was subpoenaed.

"More are coming," said the source, who declined to be named because of the sensitive nature of the investigation.

Matt Miller, a spokesman for Menendez, said neither the senator nor his campaign or congressional office has been contacted by federal authorities. He said Menendez is unaware of any new subpoenas and maintains he did nothing wrong.

"We're confident that when the U.S. Attorney's Office completes its review it will come to the same conclusion as the House Ethics Committee, that the transaction was completely appropriate," Miller said.

The latest development cuts short Menendez's political honeymoon as he prepares to head back to Washington next week as part of a new Democratic majority in Congress. Menendez's victory Tuesday was critical to Democrats taking control of the U.S. Senate by 51 to 49.

In September, federal authorities launched the investigation by issuing a subpoena seeking records of the rental deal between Menendez and North Hudson, a nonprofit that provides health care and social services to the poor.

The first subpoena followed a report in The Star-Ledger that Menendez collected more than $300,000 in rent from the organization while he represented Hudson County in the U.S. House of Representatives. Menendez leased a Union City house to the agency that it used for an administrative office. During that period, he also helped the nonprofit win millions of dollars in federal funding.

Republican State Sen. Tom Kean Jr. made the probe a central issue in his unsuccessful campaign to unseat Menendez, who repeatedly denied he was under investigation.

Told of the subpoena yesterday, Kean said: "The people have spoken and I respect their decision. At the same time, I stand by the message and the thrust of my campaign and believe that the issue of corruption continues to be of critical important to the citizens of New Jersey."

Independent ethics observers have said Menendez's rental deal posed a conflict of interest, but Menendez said he had received verbal clearance for the deal from the House Ethics Committee. He also said the agency paid just below market rent. The House ethics attorney whom Menendez said he consulted at the time said recently that there is no rule against such an arrangement.

U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie's office has repeatedly said it will neither confirm nor deny any investigation.

Menendez sought to downplay the subpoena throughout the campaign. He initially denied being represented by one criminal lawyer who had contacted the U.S. Attorney's Office on his behalf. Just days before Election Day, he acknowledged that for months, another attorney, Marc Elias, had been representing him in the matter.

Miller maintained again yesterday that the senator is not under investigation. He said Elias contacted the U.S. Attorney's Office in September and was told federal authorities did not need any information from the senator and that Menendez "had no status in any investigation" as a target or a subject.

Menendez spent the day thanking his supporters on Wednesday before leaving for an out-of-state vacation on Thursday, Miller said. He'll be back at work next week, he said.

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