Washington — Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey and his wife have been indicted by a federal grand jury, according to court filings unsealed Friday, with prosecutors alleging the couple accepted lavish bribes in exchange for official acts.
The bribery offenses against Menendez stem from a yearslong public-corruption investigation by the Justice Department. The indictment unsealed Friday charges Menendez and his wife, Nadine Menendez, with three counts in connection to their relationship with three New Jersey businessmen.
Menendez, 69, and his wife face one count of conspiracy to commit bribery, conspiracy to commit honest services fraud and conspiracy to commit extortion under color of official right. The three New Jersey associates, identified as Wael Hana, Jose Uribe and Fred Daibes, are also named as co-defendants and face two counts. Menendez and his co-defendants are expected to appear in federal court in Manhattan on Wednesday morning.
Nadine Menendez and Hana were friends for several years before she began dating Menendez, according to the filing. A court-authorized search of Hana's cellphone in November 2019 revealed "thousands" of text messages between him and Nadine Menendez, which prosecutors said were deleted from her phone. Daibes, a longtime fundraiser for Menendez, was charged by the Justice Department in 2018 with obtaining loans under false pretenses from the New Jersey bank he founded, the indictment said.
Menendez vehemently denied the charges, but a chorus of New Jersey Democrats began urging him to step down later Friday. Gov. Phil Murphy said the allegations are "so serious that they compromise the ability of Senator Menendez to effectively represent the people of our state," calling for his "."
Menendez rejected those calls Friday evening, saying in a statement: "I am not going anywhere."
"Those who believe in justice believe in innocence until proven guilty," he said. "I intend to continue to fight for the people of New Jersey with the same success I've had for the past five decades. This is the same record of success these very same leaders have lauded all along. It is not lost on me how quickly some are rushing to judge a Latino and push him out of his seat."
What does the Menendez indictment allege?
The 39-page indictment claims that from roughly 2018 to 2022, Menendez and his wife accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars of bribes in exchange for using his power and influence as a U.S. senator to enrich and protect the three businessmen and benefit Egypt's government. Federal prosecutors in New York announced the charges during a press conference Friday morning and said the investigation is ongoing.
"As we allege in the indictment, the senator agreed to do these things and use his power in this way because Hana was paying bribes, because Uribe was paying bribes and because Daibes was paying bribes," said Damian Williams, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.
The bribes allegedly included cash, gold bars, mortgage payments, compensation for a "low-or-no-show-job," a luxury vehicle and "other things of value," according to the charging document.
Federal agents found more than $480,000 in cash during a search of the couple's home in June 2022, "much of it stuffed into envelopes and hidden in clothing, closets, and a safe," as well as over $70,000 in a safe deposit box belonging to Nadine Menendez. They also found gold bars worth more than $100,000, according to the indictment.
Envelopes of cash were allegedly found in jackets with Menendez's name that were hanging in his closet. Prosecutors included photos of some of the cash and two of the gold bars they say were seized:
Federal agents conducting the search also found numerous items paid for by Hana, Daibes or Uribe, including home furnishings and a Mercedes-Benz convertible, according to the filing.
An alleged "corrupt agreement"
Prosecutors allege the "corrupt relationship" between Menendez and three businessmen began around 2018, when Hana and Nadine Menendez "worked to introduce Egyptian intelligence and military officials to" the senator with the goal of establishing a "corrupt agreement." The deal called for Hana, with help from Daibes and Uribe, to provide bribes to the Menendezes in exchange for the senator using his posture to benefit the Egyptian government, Hana and others.
Menendez's position as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee gave him oversight of U.S. military aid to foreign countries, including Egypt. As chairman, he could place so-called "holds" on foreign military financing and military sales, which the State Department typically honored.
The indictment notes that Menendez, as chairman of the panel, "possessed substantial influence over foreign military sales and foreign military financing to Egypt."
The scheme tapped into Menendez's power in the Senate, prosecutors said. Hana promised in part to hire Nadine Menendez for a "low-or-no-show job" at his company, IS EG Halal Certified, Inc., if the senator would "use his power and authority to facilitate" foreign military sales and financing to Egypt, which had been withheld for years, according to the charging document.
The senator is accused of providing sensitive, nonpublic government information about the number of people serving at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo to Nadine Menendez, before they were married, which she allegedly forwarded to Hana. Hana then shared the information with an unnamed Egyptian government official, according to the indictment.
During a May 2018 dinner Hana hosted with Menendez at a high-end restaurant, the senator provided him with nonpublic information about military aid from the U.S. to Egypt, prosecutors said. After the dinner, Hana texted an Egyptian military official, "The ban on small arms and ammunition to Egypt has been lifted. That means sales can begin. That will include sniper rifles among other articles," the indictment states.
Justice Department lawyers said Menendez also intervened to protect a monopoly for Hana's company, IS EG Halal, which allegedly allowed Hana to pay the Menendezes and "advanced the scheme" by providing a revenue stream from which Hana could "make good on the bribe payments he had promised to" the senator and his wife, according to the indictment. But prosecutors said the monopoly led to increased costs for U.S. meat suppliers and others, and the U.S. government asked Egypt to reconsider of its grant of monopoly rights to IS EG Halal.
In response to this intervention by the Department of Agriculture, Hana asked Menendez around May 2019 for help with addressing the government's objections to his company's monopoly, according to the indictment. The senator then "improperly advised and pressured" a high-level Department of Agriculture official and urged the department to stop interfering with IS EG Halal's monopoly, prosecutors said.
The indictment notes that the unnamed official "did not accede" to Menendez's demand, but IS EG Halal kept its monopoy.
He is also accused of using to use his influence and power as a senator to disrupt a criminal investigation by the New Jersey Attorney General's Office related to Uribe. Prosecutors said that around January 2019, Menendez, his wife, Hana and Uribe agreed the senator "would attempt to intervene" with an unnamed official to influence the prosecution of Uribe's associate in exchange for a car for Nadine Menendez.
After the senator called the official about the case, Hana and Uribe worked to provide Nadine Menendez with the Mercedes, which she purchased in April 2019, according to the indictment. In addition to providing $15,000 in cash for a down payment, Uribe also made monthly payments for the car, the Justice Department said.
After agents executed searched the Menendezes' home, Uribe stopped making payments, the indictment claims.
Prosecutors also allege Menendez used his sway as a senator to recommend President Biden nominate a candidate to serve as New Jersey's top federal prosecutor, someone whom Menendez believed he could influence regarding the federal criminal prosecution of Daibes. The candidate, who was ultimately nominated and confirmed by the Senate, was recused from the case involving Daibes.
"Fortunately, the public officials the senators sought to influence did not bend to the pressure. That's a good thing," Williams, the U.S. attorney, said.
Menendez calls accusations "baseless" as Democrats react
The Democratic senator defended himself in a lengthy statement Friday after the charges were made public, denying the allegations as "baseless" and accusing prosecutors in the Southern District of New York of overreaching.
"For years, forces behind the scenes have repeatedly attempted to silence my voice and dig my political grave. Since this investigation was leaked nearly a year ago, there has been an active smear campaign of anonymous sources and innuendos to create an air of impropriety where none exists," Menendez said. "The excesses of these prosecutors is apparent. They have misrepresented the normal work of a Congressional office. On top of that, not content with making false claims against me, they have attacked my wife for the longstanding friendships she had before she and I even met."
The Senate's Democratic Caucus rules dictate that Menendez must immediately step aside from his position as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as a result of the charges, which he agreed to do on Friday, according to Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. The New York Democrat called Menendez "a dedicated public servant" and said he "has a right to due process and a fair trial."
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre declined to comment on the situation, saying she believes Senate leadership is discussing Menendez's future.
Democratic Rep. Andy Kim became the first member of New Jersey's congressional delegation to call for Menendez' resignation Friday.
"These allegations are serious and alarming," Kim said. "It doesn't matter what your job title is or your politics — no one in America is above the law. The people of New Jersey absolutely need to know the truth of what happened, and I hope the judicial system works thoroughly and quickly to bring this truth to light. In the meantime, I don't have confidence that the Senator has the ability to properly focus on our state and its people while addressing such a significant legal matter. He should step down."
The New Jersey senator wason roughly a dozen charges, including bribery and conspiracy, following accusations he accepted gifts from a wealthy Democratic donor in exchange for political favors. That case after jurors were unable to reach a verdict after deliberating for more than a week.
Sourcesin October 2022 that Menendez was under criminal investigation in New York.
First elected to Congress in 1992 to represent New Jersey's 13th Congressional District, Menendez was appointed to the Senate in 2006 and elected to a full term later that year. In the course of his tenure in the Senate, Menedez rose to chair the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a post he resumed when Democrats took control of the upper after the 2020 election.
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