US Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey is facing growing pressure from his Democratic colleagues to resign following his indictment on federal corruption charges, but a few of his prominent Rhode Island donors say he deserves to have his day in court before he steps away from the job.
Prosecutors say Menendez accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes – including gold bars – to help the government of Egypt and several New Jersey businessmen. His wife was also charged in the alleged scheme.
Menendez, who has $7.8 million in his campaign account, isn’t exactly raking in cash from Rhode Island, but federal campaign records show he has raised $17,000 – between his campaign and his victory PAC – this year from the Ocean State.
His most prominent local donors include former Providence mayor Joe Paolino ($7,000), state Senator Lou Raptakis ($2,500), and lobbyist Gerry Harrington ($1,000).
”The optics look absolutely terrible,” Paolino said while traveling in London this week. “But I believe everyone is innocent until proven guilty.”
Paolino said he got to know Menendez in 2016 when the senator showed up to the Rhode Island funeral of Tom LaFauci, who worked as a speechwriter for the New Jersey Democrat. In the 1980s, LaFauci worked for Paolino in City Hall.
”He came all the way from New Jersey to the funeral, by himself, didn’t know anybody here,” Paolino recalled. “I was taken by that.”
Raptakis, who is in Greece for a conference this week, has been making the rounds on Greek television talking about his support for Menendez. He said the senator has long been a champion for the Greek and Armenian communities.
”It’s up to the American judicial system,” Raptakis said.
Harrington did not respond to a request for comment.
There’s a growing chorus of Democrats urging Menendez to step down, including Senator Cory Booker, New Jersey’s junior US senator, and New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy.
While more than half of the Democrats in the Senate have said Menendez should step down, Rhode Island Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse have not yet called for him to resign. US Representative Seth Magaziner said this week that Menendez should resign.
Menendez has said he does not plan to leave office.
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