Woman linked to Menendez denies prostitution claim

FILE - In this Jan. 28, 2013 file photo, Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J. speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington. Menendez's office says he traveled on a plane owned by a Florida physician who is a friend and political donor, but denied that the senator had engaged with prostitutes in the Dominican Republic. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

One of the women alleged to be a prostitute connected to New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez has denied the claim, which was first put forward by a mysterious e-mailer.

Yaneisi Fernandez told Spanish-language television station Univision she had never seen Menendez before.

“I’ve never participated in those activities, don’t know those people or that man,” Fernandez, 21, told Univision. Politico obtained a translation of the report.

An elusive e-mailer going by the name Peter Williams named Fernandez as one of the prostitutes Menendez allegedly visited in the Dominican Republic, while also saying there were others. Menendez has firmly denied any links to prostitutes.

Williams’ unsubstantiated accusations, sent to a Washington ethics group, ABC News and the FBI, are the main source of stories linking Menendez, a Democrat, to prostitutes. To this point, however, no one is known to have verified Williams’ claims, his identity or that he was in position to know what he claims to know.

While e-mailing to the ethics group and ABC News he refused all requests to speak by phone or meet in person. E-mails anonymously posted online show that he also rebuffed months of requests to meet with the FBI to back up his accusations.

The ethics groups, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, came to question whether Williams was even a real person, the group's leader, Melanie Sloan, told the Inquirer. His name seems to have been chosen to send a political message – Harrison “Pete” Williams was a New Jersey Senator who resigned in scandal in the early 1980s.

Williams’ e-mails were circulated to reporters last year, but with no one able to confirm his information, the mainstream media did not publish the allegations and the story was confined to conservative Web sites.

That changed last week, when FBI agents raided the South Florida offices of Menendez friend and donor Dr. Salomon Melgen, who was accused by Williams of arranging trysts with prostitutes, some said to be underage.

The Miami Herald, which first reported the raid, had seen Williams' e-mails and focused prominently on the prostitution angle in its initial story last week, bringing the accusation into widespread public view and forcing Menendez to deny the allegations. Numerous news outlets, including the Inquirer, then wrote about the accusations, although there was no more information to solidify them than there had been weeks prior.

(The reasoning, by me at least, was that the information was now in public view and likely to be covered across the country, regardless of whether it was confirmed, and had to be addressed. The prostitution claim has since been cited on national cable news broadcasts and late-night comedy shows).

Since the day of the raid, though, the Herald has reported that the FBI was actually focused on potential Medicare fraud involving Melgen, but that a corruption investigation is also ongoing.

Menendez does face some substantial questions about his relationship with Melgen based on other well-documented actions. The senator admitted to failing to disclose or pay for two roundtrip flights to the Dominican provided by Melgen until two years after the trips. He paid back $58,500 for the trips Jan. 4.

Reports in The New York Times and Herald have also highlighted the fact that Menendez urged U.S. officials to intervene in a business dispute in the Dominican on Melgen’s behalf, raising further questions about their ties and the senator's actions.

The Senate ethics committee is looking into those reports, which have been backed up by firm information while the prostitution allegations remain, to this point, unconfirmed by any concrete facts.

With any accusation, there's always the possibility that new information emerges, but for now it's the ethics issues, not the salacious sex angle, that seem most likely to trouble Menendez.