More Skeletons in Robert Menendez’s Closet

Posted: September 29, 2006 in 2006 Elections

This from the Newark Star-Ledger:

U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez’s closest political adviser was secretly recorded seven years ago boasting of political power and urging a Hudson County contractor to hire someone as a favor to Menendez, according to a transcript obtained by The Star-Ledger.

Menendez’s campaign said last night he had severed his ties with the adviser, Donald Scarinci, after learning of the taped conversation. The two men were childhood friends and Scarinci, a prominent attorney with extensive contracts in state and local governments, has been a key fundraiser for the senator throughout his long political career.

Scarinci was recorded in 1999 by Oscar Sandoval, a Union City psychiatrist who had contracts with the county jail and hospital in Hudson County, according to two people familiar with the tapes who requested anonymity because the recordings are evidence in a pending lawsuit.

A transcript of the recorded telephone conversation was obtained by The Star-Ledger and verified by the two sources. In it, Scarinci urged Sandoval to hire another physician, Vincente Ruiz, telling him: “Menendez will consider that a favor.”

Matt Miller, spokesman for Menendez’s campaign, said last night, “If this transcript is accurate, then Scarinci was using Menendez’s name without his authorization or his knowledge. That was a lapse in judgment on his part and because of it, he will no longer have any role in our campaign.”

Menendez, locked in a tight U.S. Senate election race against Republican Tom Kean Jr., is already facing political fallout from a federal investigation into a rental deal he had with a nonprofit organization in Union City years ago.

Menendez is in a tight race, and given the state party’s track record (Bob Torricelli, James McGreevey), this is one more headache Menendez doesn’t need a month before Election Day. Whether Tom Kean can capitalize on it and use it to lure away Democratic voters remains to be seen.

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