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 Mendez 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.
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.
Governor Phil Murphy released a statement Friday afternoon calling for Menendez to immediately resign.
"The allegations in the indictment against Senator Menendez and four other defendants are deeply disturbing. These are serious charges that implicate national security and the integrity of our criminal justice system. Under our legal system, Senator Menendez and the other defendants have not been found guilty and will have the ability to present evidence disputing these charges, and we must respect the process. However, the alleged facts are so serious that they compromise the ability of Senator Menendez to effectively represent the people of our state. Therefore, I am calling for his immediate resignation."
Federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York announced the charges during a press conference Friday morning and said the investigation is ongoing.
"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 in a statement released through his office Friday afternoon.
The full statement is below.
What does the indictment allege?
The 39-page indictment claims that beginning in 2018, 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.
The bribes allegedly included cash, gold, payments toward a home mortgage, 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.
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-Benz convertible, which she purchased in April 2019, according to the indictment. In addition to providing $15,000 in cash for a down payment for the car, Uribe also made monthly payments for the car, the Justice Department said.
After agents executed search warrants at the Menendezes' home, Uribe stopped making payments on the car, 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," said Damian Williams, the U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York.
Menendez's Senate office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday.
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.
Full statement from Menendez
"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.
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.
Those behind this campaign simply cannot accept that a first-generation Latino American from humble beginnings could rise to be a U.S. Senator and serve with honor and distinction. Even worse, they see me as an obstacle in the way of their broader political goals.
I have been falsely accused before because I refused to back down to the powers that be and the people of New Jersey were able to see through the smoke and mirrors and recognize I was innocent. I have worked every day to repay their trust by fighting to create jobs, strengthen public safety, update infrastructure, and reduce costs for New Jersey families. I have also stood steadfast against dictators around the globe – whether they be in Iran, Cuba, Turkey, or elsewhere – fighting against the forces of appeasement and standing with those who stand for freedom and democracy. I remain focused on continuing this important work and will not be distracted by baseless allegations.
They wrote these charges as they wanted; the facts are not as presented. Prosecutors did that the last time and look what a trial demonstrates. People should remember that before accepting the prosecutor's version.
To my supporters, friends and the community at large, I ask that you recall the other times the prosecutors got it wrong and that you reserve judgement. I am confident that this matter will be successfully resolved once all of the facts are presented and my fellow New Jerseyans will see this for what it is."
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