Alleged prostitute recants story about sex with Sen. Menendez

Special to the Miami HeraldMarch 4, 2013 

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic -- An alleged Dominican prostitute who said she appeared in a video claiming she was paid to have sex with U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez now says that it never happened and she was tricked into making the video.

According to documents distributed to the media Monday, the woman, Nexis de los Santos Santana, and a Dominican lawyer, Miguel Galván, entered sworn statements claiming they were duped as part of an elaborate plan hatched by a Dominican lawyer under the guise of a divorce case involving Menendez’s longtime friend and donor, Dr. Salomon Melgen.

“I never went to bed with [Menendez or Melgen]. I don’t know them,” de los Santos, 23, said in the testimony. “They were going to pay me a lot.”

She was one of two women who appeared in videos, first published last fall by the conservative website The Daily Caller, claiming to have been paid to have sex with Menendez. The senator and Melgen, a political benefactor and well-known Florida ophthalmologist, have repeatedly denied the allegations.

But the doctor and senator face other problems. Menendez still faces an ethics inquiry on Capitol Hill and the doctor is involved in a federal criminal investigation.

The Dominican woman’s testimony appeared to be the first time one of the alleged prostitutes has come forward to disprove the tawdriest of the allegations. The videos developed into an FBI investigation after a tipster, who went by “Peter Williams” online, provided names of several women and the dates they supposedly were hired by Melgen and Menendez. Those claims were eventually forwarded to FBI investigators and, later, placed online.

“Dr. Melgen is hopeful that the appropriate authorities will identify and prosecute the people who are responsible,” said his attorney Kirk Ogrosky in a statement to The Herald. “As he has maintained from day one, Dr. Melgen has been cooperating with authorities in every way possible and he denies any wrongdoing.” Menendez’s office had no comment when contacted Monday evening.

Vinicio Castillo, a Dominican lawyer who held the Monday press conference, said the testimonies were in the hands of the head of police, prosecutors and a special unit in charge of investigating high-tech crimes. Prosecutors last month opened a criminal investigation following a complaint filed by Castillo. The prosecutor’s office did not respond to calls Monday.

The Miami Herald could not independently verify the testimonies, entered Feb. 26 as part of a case filed in La Romana, a coastal city two hours east of the capital.

But in the copies of the testimonies, de los Santos and Galván said Dominican lawyer Melanio Figueroa approached them to record a video as part of a divorce proceeding.

Galván said he was contacted in mid-October by Figueroa to assist in a divorce case between a Dominican woman and Melgen, identified initially as a “Dominican doctor who lived out of the country” but who owned property in the resort development Casa de Campo.

The request came weeks before Menendez was re-elected to the Senate. Menendez has pointed out the timing as evidence that the allegations are part of a political smear campaign.

Galván said he was asked to find women to record videos. He turned to de los Santos, who was supposed to ask a friend to also record a video.

They met at Jumbo, an upscale grocery and department store in La Romana, according to the testimony. De los Santos was supposed to pose as a female “companion” of Melgen at his house in Casa de Campo, an exclusive tourism development outside of La Romana, according to her testimony.

“He claimed he would pay her $500, but only paid $100,” Galván said in his testimony.

De los Santos said she never consented to record the video and that it was recorded with a hidden camera. However, in The Daily Caller video, in which she is allegedly the woman wearing green whose face is blurred out, she appears wearing an earpiece and answering questions.

Contacted briefly by phone Monday evening, Figueroa said allegations he orchestrated the plan were “totally false.”

“It was a case that I handled for these women and faithfully represented them for what they said,” he said. Figueroa said it has been months since he has had contact with any of the women who appeared in the videos and that he no longer represented them.

“These are lies by Galván,” Figueroa said. “What he is saying is a lie.”

Figueroa said he was preparing a public declaration that would be issued in coming days.

Castillo, who was accused of organizing the prostitutes, said he wanted to know who was behind Figueroa.

“With the help of the U.S. government and FBI, it will not be difficult to determine who was Figueroa’s contact in the United States, and who was his contact in the Dominican Republic,” Castillo said.

“This has affected the image of a U.S. senator,” he said. “Who is this person and what was his motive?”

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