A former aide to Sen. Bob Menendez might benefit from a major overseas port deal that’s supported by the powerful Democrat and is tied to a South Florida donor whose offices were raided last week by the FBI.
The one-time aide, Pedro Pablo Permuy, is a key official in the security firm ICSSI, according to a defender and relative of Dr. Salomon Melgen, an investor in the company.
Melgen is under FBI scrutiny, partly for his relationship with the New Jersey senator, who ran afoul of Senate ethics rules by taking freebie flights on the eye-doctor’s plane to the Dominican Republic.
In the fallout of the criminal investigation, Permuy has become tight-lipped and denied being a board member or employee of ICSSI, according to an email he sent the New York Times on Monday night. Permuy refused to return calls or respond to emails from The Miami Herald.
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Permuy, 48, appeared to be a perfect fit for ICSSI as it tries to enforce a contract to X-ray and inspect port cargo in the Dominican Republic.
Among ICSSI’s “executives is the former assistant secretary of defense of the United States Pedro Pablo Permuy,” Melgen’s cousin, Vinicio Castillo Seman, said in a written statement Monday obtained by The Miami Herald.
Castillo mentioned Permuy to rebut criticisms that Melgen didn’t know anything about the security business because he’s an eye doctor.
Castillo’s comments were made as part of an effort to defend Melgen from claims that he helped procure prostitutes, including minors, for the senator. Melgen and Menendez deny it, as does Castillo.
The three men and others were implicated in the illicit activity by a shadowy tipster who helped launch the FBI investigation into the underage prostitution claims. Last week, the FBI raided Melgen’s West Palm Beach offices. However, the raid was related to a Medicare-fraud investigation connected to Melgen and not Menendez.
But Melgen’s relationship with Menendez is also under examination in a parallel FBI probe. Any documents seized from Melgen’s offices, the nerve center of a dozen businesses — including a company tied to ICSSI — can be used in the investigation tied to the senator.
Menendez acknowledged after the FBI raid that he neglected to pay for two trips to the Dominican Republic on Melgen’s jet in 2010.
He said he reimbursed the doctor $58,500 for the flights a few weeks ago. But Menendez’s office has refused to show a copy of the check. It also won’t provide a breakdown of the expenses detailing how much the senator paid for airfare and whether he paid for food or lodging at Melgen’s exclusive home in the elite resort enclave of Casa de Campo.
Menendez’s office said he has flown just one other time, but it was paid for by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which Menendez once led.
Melgen also has an outstanding $11.1 million lien the Internal Revenue Service placed against him. The IRS had placed two other liens on Melgen, but those were satisfied.
The tax trouble hasn’t stopped Melgen’s political contributions. Of the more than $1.14 million he, his family and company have given over the decades, $616,200 flowed directly and indirectly to Menendez.
Menendez, about to become the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, advocated last year for Melgen’s company, ICSSI, without naming the company directly during a committee meeting. Menendez and his office said the contract will help stop the flow of illegal drugs.
The contract could be worth as much as $500 million and, according to critics, could reach $1 billion over two decades.
Menendez was unaware of the potential involvement of his former aide, Permuy, in the company behind the contract, a spokeswoman told the Times.
A graduate of Belen Jesuit Preparatory School who attended the University of Miami, Permuy has drifted back and forth between government and the private sector as an aide and a lobbyist, most recently for the heavy-hitting firm of Greenberg Traurig.
Permuy worked as an aide in the mid 1990s with Menendez and then again in the early 2000s. A “revolving door” report from the open-government group, Center for Responsive Politics, said Permuy also held his defense department post during the Clinton administration and, before that, worked as an aide to Florida Sen. Bob Graham, who told The Herald he doesn’t remember Permuy well.
In talking to the Times, Castillo seemed well-aware of Permuy’s role at ICSSI where, he said, the former Menendez aide “will run the operations.”