By Brenda Flanagan
A clearly exasperated Bob Menendez characterized this latest reported scandal.
“We’re back to anonymous sources making ridiculous allegations,” Menendez said.
The allegations? That the senator improperly helped two wealthy bankers avoid extradition back to their native Ecuador. William and Roberto Isaias fled to the U.S. in 2001 — after the collapse of their bank, Filanbanco. Ecuador calls them criminals who took $100 million of investors’ money. But, the Isaias brothers claim they’re the victims, here.
“Just because a corrupt Ecuadorian government declares these people to be fugitives, it doesn’t mean they are truly criminals,” Menendez said.
Menendez says both Presidents Bush and Obama refused Ecuador’s continued demands to extradite the Isaias — who’ve lived peacefully in the U.S. for more than a decade. But as those demands continued, the family asked Menendez for help obtaining permanent residence here.
“In this particular case, my office made standard inquiries on behalf of members of the Isaias family because we had every reason to believe that they may or have been victims of political persecution in their native country of Ecuador.
But reports recently surfaced, charging that the Isaias family contributed $10,000 to the senator’s campaign — and implying Menendez had offered his assistance in return — prompting an investigation by the FBI. The agency would not confirm that. The reaction from Menendez?
“We never, never act on a contribution as a cause for action. If people support my views and advocacy, they may feel the desire to contribute,” Menendez said.
That these accusations popped up — at the same time the Christie administration’s under investigation for the George Washington Bridge lane closures and other alleged scandals struck some as suspicious timing.
Political Analyst Patrick Murray considers that unlikely, but said, “We’ve seen in the past. There’ve been attacks versus Sen. Menendez, there have been charges made against him — some of them turned out to be totally made up.”
Whether you define the Isaias brothers as victims or villains begs the question, did Bob Menendez use his political influence to help the brothers, after their family donated thousands of dollars to his campaign? Menendez’s answer? An emphatic, “No.”