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N.J. Senator Accused Of Kickbacks

A childhood friend and close political adviser of Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez allegedly used the senator's name to pressure a psychiatrist to hire a doctor for local government work, according to a transcript of the telephone call, part of which is mentioned in federal court documents.

The doctor Menendez allegedly wanted hired believed some of the money from the government contract would be kicked back to Menendez, who was a congressman at the time, according to court documents.

Menendez campaign spokesman Matthew Miller called the kickback allegations "completely false."

As allegations of ethical wrongdoing against the man he selected to be U.S. senator persist, Gov. Jon S. Corzine on Friday endorsed Robert Menendez's campaign while Republicans continued trying to convince voters Democrats will change candidates.

"Bob Menendez was Governor Corzine's choice to replace him in the Senate in January," Corzine spokesman Anthony Coley said. "He is Governor Corzine's choice today and he will remain the governor's choice through the election."

The transcript of the 1999 conversation, obtained Thursday by The Associated Press, depicts an expletive- and chuckle-laden chat between Donald Scarinci, Menendez's friend and adviser, and Oscar Sandoval, a psychiatrist who taped the exchange as part of his work as an FBI informant in a criminal investigation of several northern New Jersey politicians.

In the conversation, Scarinci asks Sandoval to rehire a doctor, Dr. Vicente Ruiz, whom he fired the year before. At the time of the conversation, Sandoval had contracts with the Hudson County Jail and a county hospital.

The revelation of the conversation — reported by several newspapers Thursday, including The Philadelphia Inquirer, which obtained a copy of the tape — and details of the court filings were the latest in the ethics barrage hitting Menendez as his campaign enters its final months. Menendez, a longtime Democratic congressman appointed to the Senate when Jon Corzine took office as governor, is locked in a tight race with Republican state Sen. Tom Kean Jr.

In the transcript, Scarinci is quoted as saying, "If you can deal with Dr. Ruiz and make him happy, Menendez will consider that a favor. If you can't, then that's OK ... you can't."

Scarinci later says hiring Ruiz would give Sandoval "protection" but does not say what that meant. In court documents filed in March, Sandoval said "protection" meant that he would keep his government contracts.

The documents also state Sandoval was told by Ruiz he would have to divide his contract earnings between himself, Ruiz, Scarinci and Menendez. Sandoval had fired Ruiz in 1998, according to the documents, which give no reason for the dismissal.

Ruiz was not able to be reached for comment Thursday. He was rehired by Sandoval following the 1999 conversation and the court documents, filed as part of an ongoing civil lawsuit involving government corruption, indicate that Menendez was in on the talks.

"After this Dr. Ruiz, Scarinci and Dr. Sandoval met at Scarinci's office with the purpose of working together at which time now U.S. senator then U.S. Congressman Menendez came into the meeting and stated that he was glad we could work out our difference (sic) and could work together," one document states.

Ruiz in 1998 served as a physician with the North Hudson Community Action Corp. The U.S. attorney's office has issued a subpoena seeking records from the nonprofit agency related to a lease agreement it had with Menendez, who rented a house he owned in Union City to the group, and also helped the organization obtain federal funds.

Scarinci in a statement said the tape and its contents have long been part of a civil lawsuit filed by Hudson County earlier this year against several county government vendors tied to former county executive Robert Janiszewski, who is serving a 41-month federal sentence after pleading guilty to taking more than $100,000 in bribes. One of the vendors mentioned in the lawsuit is Sandoval, who is countersuing.

"As I am party to the lawsuit and represented companies owned by Dr. Sandoval during the time it is contended this recording was made, regretfully I am legally constrained from making any further statement at this time," Scarinci said. "That being said, I will clearly state that none of my dealings with Dr. Sandoval were either directed or requested by Bob Menendez."

Miller said the campaign has severed its ties with Scarinci, who has served as a fundraiser to Menendez.

Miller did say Sandoval has many reasons to lie and questioned statements made by a man accused of seducing one of his own psychiatrist patients and then using her to bribe public officials for millions of dollars in contracts.

Miller was referring to Nidia Davila Colon, a five-term Hudson County freeholder, who was sentenced to a 2½-year prison term after being convicted of passing more than $10,000 in bribes to Janiszewski so Sandoval could win millions of dollars in county contracts. Janiszewski testified against her at trial. Sandoval became an FBI informant and was never charged.

Miller also questioned Kean's judgment for campaigning with Jose Sandoval, who is running for Congress in the 8th Congressional District, saying that Oscar Sandoval and Jose Sandoval are brothers. Miller later said that he was mistaken and the two Sandovals are not related. Kean has questioned Menendez's ethics throughout the campaign.

Telephone calls made to Oscar Sandoval's two attorneys — Tomas Espinosa and Edward Duschock — were not returned Thursday.

The transcript also has an exchange where Scarinci takes credit for getting Colon hired by Carl Goldberg, a developer and Menendez fundraiser who is also chairman of the New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority, the agency that operates the Meadowlands Sports Complex and other venues.

Scarinci told Sandoval: "Ultimately, I had to physically take Bob by the hand, and sit him down at a table with Carl Goldberg, when Carl handed him $12,000 in checks as campaign contribution. And I said, 'Bob, isn't there something else you that you need from Carl Goldberg?' "

Miller said the "Bob" in this conversation referred to Janiszewski. Janiszewski's lawyer, William F. Maderer, said Thursday he was unaware of the tape and could not comment.

A message left for Goldberg was returned by a spokesman who issued a statement on Goldberg's behalf that said he was "puzzled and dismayed by how my role was portrayed in a conversation that took place seven and a half years ago."

Meanwhile, rumors were rampant that the Sandoval-Scarinci phone call would force Democrats to replace Menendez on the ballot with Democratic Rep. Robert Andrews. In a telephone call to The Associated Press, Andrews said to his knowledge, there has never been any discussion of replacing Menendez on the ballot.

"The governor and the party leaders are both behind Menendez and so am I," Andrews said.

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