New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez‘s(D) efforts on behalf of William and Roberto Isaias, two fugitive bankers from Ecuador, is the focus of a new federal criminal investigation. Investigators say they want to know whether Menendez,  who is the current chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, attempted to influence immigration officials and high-ranking officers in the DHS into allowing the Isaias brothers, who currently reside in Coral Gables, Florida, to remain in the US in exchange for campaign donations.

Numerous officials claim Menendez made phone calls and wrote letters to the DHS and the State Department supporting permanent resident status for the brothers.

Weysan Dun, the former special agent in charge of the FBI’s New Jersey office, says Menendez’s actions on behalf of the Isaias brothers isn’t typical and should be considered inappropriate:

“It’s shocking. I think most people would know and would believe that it be appropriate to keep your distance from individuals who are convicted of crimes in their homeland.”

It’s alleged that on April 2, 2012 Menendez personally wrote high-ranking Homeland Security official Alejandro Mayorkas, asking that the brothers get “full consideration” and that the Department of Homeland Security “expedite its review.”

The Isaias brothers deny the claims saying that as non-residents of the United States they can’t make donations to a U.S. political campaign and state they have no affiliation with any senator or politician but federal election records indicate that relatives of the brothers who are U.S. residents donated more than $10,000 to Menendez’s 2012 campaign and also donated at least $100,000 to the democrat party in 2012.

Federal prosecutor Scott Fredericksen said that even though such cases are tough to prove “If the government, when they look at this, can establish that in exchange for donations from citizens not from this country, of gifts, that the senator took official action that benefited them, now, now we’re talking about something potentially illegal.”

“For Sen. Menendez, who is chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, to be involved in something that has a foreign component and might raise concerns about the national interest with other countries, this is an incredibly serious matter,” said Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics.


Isaias Brothers

Both brothers are wanted in their native Ecuador for embezzling hundreds of millions from collapsing banking systems including the country’s largest bank, Filanbanco, which was managed by the Isaias. The 2 were charged in absentia more than a decade ago but have never been charged in the United States. The brothers are reportedly now involved in several successful businesses.

In 2005 then U.S. Ambassador to Ecuador Kristie Kenney wrote a letter to the State Department claiming the Isaias brothers ran off “with $100 million” and used it to buy safe passage into the US. Kenney suggested then that the Isaias brothers be extradited back to Ecuador but the DOJ has shielded that extradition on grounds that the Ecuadorian government had failed to provide enough evidence against the Isaias brothers.

In 2010 Interpol issued international arrest warrants for the brothers on behalf of Ecuador.

Their attorney, Xavier Castro Munoz, said their only crime was being wealthy in a poor country and insists they won’t be afforded a fair trial in Ecuador.

A spokeswoman for Menendez released this statement:

“In this particular case, Sen. Menendez believed the Isaias family had been politically persecuted in Ecuador, including through the confiscation of media outlets they owned which were critical of the government,” said the spokeswoman, Tricia Enright. “We are not aware of any inquiry into the senator’s actions on this matter.”

Also still under investigation from January of last year is Menendez’s relationship with Florida optometrist Salomon Melgen, a major Menendez campaign donor, in connection with an $8 million Medicare billing dispute in which the doctor is accused of over billing. Investigators suspect Menendez improperly advocated for the doctor in that dispute and they are also looking into whether the senator acted improperly when he assisted Melgen with a deal to secure a port security contract in the Dominican Republic.

It was Melgen who got Menendez into hot water last year when it was discovered the senator had taken several trips on Megen’s private jet – two of them to the luxury resort of Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic where it was alleged that Menendez had been soliciting the services of underage prostitutes –  a charge Menendez adamantly denied and a story which was mysteriously derailed after a key witness later reneged on their testimony.

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