WASHINGTON (AP) — Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez and his wife are accused of accepting bribes According to an indictment unsealed Friday, he received gold bars, a luxury car and cash in exchange for using his outsized influence in foreign policy to help the Egyptian government – and others – as well as other corrupt acts.
Investigators said they found nearly $500,000 in cash hidden in clothing and closets, as well as $100,000 in gold bars, during a search of the home the 69-year-old New Jersey senator shares with his wife. Menendez is the influential chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The indictment is the second against Menendez in eight years and follows a years-long investigation that delved into his relationships with wealthy New Jersey businessmen.
Menendez says he has been falsely accused but will not “be distracted from work in the Senate” and accuses prosecutors of misrepresenting “the normal work of a congressional office.”
The lawyer for Menendez’s wife, Nadine, said she “denies any criminal conduct and will vigorously contest these allegations in court.”
USE HIS INFLUENCE AS CHAIRMAN
Menendez is charged with bribery, fraud and extortion. The accusation contains a damning list of alleged favors exchanged between the businessmen and Menendez, who is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and has powers and access to information that other senators do not have.
The indictment alleges that Menendez took advantage of his position and took steps to secretly support the Egyptian government in exchange for bribes. And as chairman, he had unique influence over foreign military sales and foreign military financing. The indictment notes that Egypt is one of the largest recipients of American military aid, including military equipment and grants totaling more than $1 billion per year. In recent years, the U.S. has withheld some aid due to concerns about human rights abuses.
The indictment accuses Menendez of disclosing non-public information to businessmen about U.S. military aid and the number and nationality of employees at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo. This information was then passed on to Egyptian officials. Prosecutors said Menendez also secretly wrote a letter to other senators on Egypt’s behalf demanding that a freeze on $300 million in aid be lifted. At one point he also texted his wife to tell one of the businessmen that he would “agree” to sell military equipment to Egypt.
When it comes to foreign military financing and foreign military sales, the State Department typically seeks the opinion of the chairman and the top minority senator on the Foreign Relations Panel. If either senator objects, the State Department typically will not proceed.
Egypt’s Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Menendez has held public office continuously since 1986, when he was elected mayor of Union City, New Jersey. The son of Cuban immigrants, he served as a legislator and spent 14 years in the U.S. House of Representatives. He was first appointed to his Senate seat in 2006.
His wife, formerly known as Nadine Arslania, 56, was unemployed before they met in 2018, but the following year she started a new consulting firm, Strategic International Business Consultants LLC., the indictment says. Foreclosure proceedings against her were soon dropped.
After her marriage in 2020, she came into possession of a large amount of gold, some of which she later sold for $200,000 to $400,000, according to the senator’s financial reports. Her attorney, David Schertler, did not respond to a request for comment about his client’s international business operations or how she obtained the gold bars.
The couple is accused of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes from three business partners: Wael Hana, Jose Uribe and Fred Daibes.
Hana is a friend of Nadine Menendez and the Egyptian-American founder of a company that certifies that beef imported into Egypt meets Islamic religious standards. He had no experience with Halal certification, but in 2019 the Egyptian government granted his company a monopoly.
He is accused of arranging and paying for meetings and dinners with Menendez and Egyptian officials to discuss military sales and financing, the indictment says. He also helped pay Nadine Menendez’s mortgage, the indictment says.
Fred Daibes is a wealthy developer from Edgewater, New Jersey, who pleaded guilty to bank fraud charges last April and is expected to be sentenced to probation in October. He was also a longtime fundraiser for Menendez, who is accused of trying to use his influence to pressure the president to appoint a U.S. attorney for New Jersey who would protect Daibes.
According to the indictment, Jose Uribe is also a New Jersey businessman who works in the trucking and insurance industries and was friends with Hana. According to the indictment, Hana and Uribe provided Nadine Menendez with a Mercedes convertible after the senator called a government official about another case involving one of Uribe’s associates.
“Congratulations mon amour de la vie, we are the proud owners of a 2019 Mercedes,” Nadine Menendez texted her husband with a heart emoji.
Hana’s spokesman said the charges were “absolutely baseless.”
Messages seeking comment were left with lawyers for Daibes and Uribe.
According to the Senate Historical Office, this appears to be the first time in U.S. history that a sitting senator has been impeached twice in two unrelated cases.
Menendez was once indicted on bribery, fraud and conspiracy charges and accused of accepting generous gifts to pressure government officials on her behalf a doctor from Florida and friend. He was accused of pressuring government officials to resolve a Medicare billing dispute in favor of Dr. Salomon Melgen settled for securing visas for the doctor’s girlfriends and helping to protect a contract to supply port screening equipment to the Dominican Republic.
Menendez has always maintained his innocence. His lawyers said campaign contributions and gifts – including trips on his private jet to a resort in the Dominican Republic and a vacation in Paris – were signs of their long-standing friendship and not bribes. Melgen was convicted of health care fraud in 2017, but President Donald Trump commuted his sentence.
A jury was deadlocked in the trial and with the prosecution dropped the case. Menendez was rebuked by the Senate Ethics Committee, but by New Jersey voters brought him back to the Senate Months later. He defeated a well-financed challenger in a midterm election that broke Republicans’ ties to power in Washington.
Menendez faces re-election next year to extend his three-decade career in Washington as Democrats hold a narrow majority in the Senate.
Under Senate Democratic caucus rules, Menendez must resign as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. But neither Menendez nor Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer have said when that will happen. Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., is expected to replace him as chairman, as he did between 2015 and 2018, the last time Menendez faced a federal indictment and trial.
Given the seriousness of this charge and the fact that Menendez is accused of exploiting his role on the panel for his personal gain, Schumer could also ask Menendez to leave the committee entirely. Schumer has not yet commented on the charges.
Schumer could also ask Menendez to resign from the Senate, but that will be more complicated since Democrats only have a one-seat majority. While New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy would likely appoint a Democrat to replace Menendez, Schumer may not want to create uncertainty about the balance of power.
And even if Schumer asked Menendez to resign, he wouldn’t have to do so. The seat is his until the next election, and Menendez has not said whether he will run again. In a statement, Menendez struck a defiant tone: “I am confident that this matter will be successfully resolved once all the facts are presented and my fellow New Jerseyans see the matter for what it is.”
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