April 26 (UPI) -- The Senate ethics committee formally admonished Sen. Robert Menendez on Thursday for accepting gifts from his close friend Salomon Melgen.
The panel declared Menendez, D-N.J., knowingly and repeatedly accepted expensive gifts from Melgen throughout a six-year period without obtaining Senate committee approval or publicly disclosing the gifts as required by law.
"From 2006 through 2013, you accepted numerous things of value from Dr. Melgen, including, but not limited to, travel on private and commercial flights, a luxury hotel stay in Paris, and lodging on 19 occasions at a Dominican Republic villa," the committee wrote. "You did not pay fair market value for, or, where required, obtain necessary written approval from the Committee to accept these gifts."
In addition to the admonishment, the ethics committee ordered Menendez to repay the fair market value of all impermissible gifts he has yet to repay.
The committee added that while Menendez has repaid some of the gifts, the repayment doesn't excuse the violation considering the amount of time between the acceptance and repayment of the gifts, and the circumstances that prompted them.
Menendez also was accused of using his position as a member of the Senate to advance Melgen's personal and business interests, including intervening when the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services determined Melgen had over-billed Medicare by $8.9 million
"You demonstrated disregard for these standards by placing your Senate office in Dr. Melgen's service at the same time you repeatedly accepted gifts of significant value from him," the committee said. "Your assistance to Dr. Melgen under these circumstances demonstrated poor judgment, and it risked undermining the public's confidence in the Senate. As such, your actions reflected discredit upon the Senate."
In January, federal prosecutors dropped their bribery case against Menendez in relation to his relationship with Melgen as U.S. District Judge William Walls acquitted both men of seven charges.
Melgen was sentenced to 17 years in prison for Medicare fraud in February after he was found guilty of treating dozens of elderly patients for wet macular degeneration in order to collect $73 million from Medicare and other insurers.