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NJ Sen. Menendez is no stranger to investigations

Saturday - 2/2/2013, 11:04am  ET

FILE - In this Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012 file photograph, incumbent Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., addresses a crowd in New Brunswick, N.J., after defeating Republican challenger state Sen. Joe Kryillos. In January 2013, the senator’s role in Washington grew as he became chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and was a major player in a bipartisan Senate plan to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws. At the same time, he has been in the familiar situation of fending off charges of impropriety. He’s repaid a donor for travel in a private jet and tried to shoot down stories that he’s patronized prostitutes in the Dominican Republic. (AP Photo/Mel Evans, File)

DAVID PORTER
Associated Press

UNION CITY, N.J. (AP) -- To his critics, U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez is the bad guy who always wiggles away. To defenders, he's a respected figure persecuted in whispers and investigations.

The New Jersey Democrat finds himself in familiar territory as his office acknowledges he flew on a donor's plane to the Dominican Republic in 2010 -- but says he did not engage in sex with prostitutes there, as a conservative website reported.

In his gritty, immigrant-heavy northern New Jersey hometown sometimes called "Havana on the Hudson," Menendez is revered as the Cuban-American who has risen the highest in politics and gets high marks for his work for the community.

Antonio Paz, who came to Union City from Cuba 58 years ago, said that he is a Republican with political views different from Menendez's, but that he respects the senator as a leader and is untroubled by the accusation about prostitutes.

"What's the matter?" he said. "In Europe, they give medals for that."

Others find the allegations incredible.

"Could this U.S. senator be so stupid or arrogant to engage in this type of action when he knows that everything he does will be scrutinized during his career?" said Brigid Harrison, a Montclair State University political scientist.

Menendez did not respond to a request by The Associated Press to comment for this article.

While Menendez, 59, has never been charged with a crime, there is no denying that he's often caught in ethical crosshairs.

The son of parents who came to New York from Cuba just before he was born, Menendez was a 19-year-old college student when he petitioned in 1973 to make the school board in Union City elected instead of appointed. At age 20, he was among the first elected to it.

He was a prot
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