March 20, 2013

POLITICO: Robert Menendez donor courted President Obama, Harry Reid.

Salomon Melgen had a knack for going straight to the top.

He posed for pictures with President Barack Obama, flew Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on his private jet and sought advice on a port security deal from an ex-CIA agent who helped lead the hunt for Osama bin Laden, POLITICO has learned.

Melgen, a wealthy South Florida eye doctor and investor, has seen his flashy forays onto the political stage backfire in spectacular fashion in the past few months. Federal investigators are probing his business dealings. He’s at the center of the controversy over Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and prostitutes in the Dominican Republic.

And now, new details show that Melgen also courted other leading politicians, including two of the top Democrats in Washington.

Nice pic of him and Obama, standing intertwined.

UPDATE: Bill Allison emails:

One more mysterious piece of the Salomon Melgen puzzle–he also tried to strike it rich from investing in a defense contractor on the grounds that it had government connections:

In February 2009, Melgen claims he met Florencio Rendon, a former chief of staff to Rep. Solomon Ortiz, D-Texas. Rendon, whose boss was a member of the House Armed Services Committee before losing his seat in 2010, “touted his ability to put deals together and to win federal and state government contracts,” Melgen said in his lawsuit.

By the summer of 2009, Melgen claims he was on the receiving end of a hard charging sales pitch to invest $3 million in a company Rendon recommended, Securiforce International of America LLC. The company was seeking all or a portion of an Army contract worth $400 million called TWISS, or Theatre Wide Internal Security Services. In a June meeting, Rendon insisted that “through his government contacts” he “could obtain government contracts,” according to the complaint, which goes on to note that Melgen was led to believe that “this was a rare investment opportunity and worth millions.”

Rendon cited his relationship with Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the former commander of the coalition ground forces in Iraq from June 2003 to June 2004, and mentioned other government connections who could assist him in securing contracts. Melgen claimed he was told that Sanchez was an investor in Securiforce, “and that this would help secure the TWISS contract.”

With so many government connections pulling for Securiforce, Melgen apparently couldn’t say no. But a few weeks after he signed an August, 2009 agreement and invested $1.5 million, with a promise to invest $1.5 million more, the Army did say no to Securiforce. It awarded the TWISS contract to five other firms.

Though Menendez’s spinmeisters would like you — and the press — to focus on the underage-hooker angle, the real story is influence-peddling. And it’s probably pretty bad, if the underage-hooker angle is the preferred distraction. . . .

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