Menendez repaid free trips, but is that the end of the story?

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey) has paid back $58,000 for two flights to the Dominican Republic on a Florida doctor’s private jet.

Because he’s repaid money, the Senator may not face discipline from the Senate ethics committee, but that doesn’t mean Menendez won’t face consequences.

For easy reference, a non-stop return flight next week from Newark, N.J. to the Dominican Republican runs about $500 on U.S. Airways.

Menendez’s two, luxurious free trips back in 2010 cost a lot more for supporter, Salomon Melgen, and never got reported to the Senate ethics committee, as required for gifts over $250.

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Melanie Sloan, head of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington says if it was only a couple of trips, that could be the end of it.

“Usually these kinds of failures to disclose only become scandalous if they’re add ons to other bigger problems,” said Sloan. “And there are a lot of allegations swirling around Senator Menandez regarding his relationship with Dr. Melgen. If it turns out there are other problematic elements to the story, they I think it won’t blow over so quickly.”

This was the case with former Rep. Tom Delay (R-Texas), tainted by his close and lucrative relationship with lobbyist Jack Abramoff. He received a number of free trips but it took a political money laundering scandal for Delay to leave office. Long-serving Senator from Alaska Ted Stevens was convicted for failing to report gifts. The verdict got overturned but he lost his seat in the 2008 election cycle.

And who can forget former Sen. Bob Torricelli (D-New Jersey) who in the summer of 2002 was “severely admonished” by the senate for taking improper gifts from a supporter and then pulled out of the race about a month before the election.

The doctor who made his jet available to Senator Menendez is under FBI investigation. Menendez says he repaid the cost of the flights in early January after he became aware of it but he disputes all allegations against himself, including that he hired underage prostitutes during his trips to the Dominican Republic.

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