It’s the second time the New Jersey Democrat has been federally indicted. His corruption trial years ago ended in a mistrial.
Sen. Bob Menendez speaks with reporters at the U.S. Capitol on July 10, 2023. | Francis Chung/POLITICO
By Erica Orden and Matt Friedman
NEW YORK — A federal grand jury in New York indicted Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and his wife, charging the two with bribery in connection with their relationship with three New Jersey businesspeople, according to an indictment unsealed Friday.
Federal prosecutors accused the couple of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes in cash, gold bars, a Mercedes-Benz C-300 convertible and home mortgage payments in exchange for using the senator’s position to benefit the businesspeople and the government of Egypt between 2018 and 2022. The two were charged with conspiracy to commit bribery, conspiracy to commit honest services fraud and conspiracy to commit extortion.
The three businesspeople were also charged in the indictment.
Photos from Menendez indictment. The couple is accused of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes in cash, gold bars, a luxury vehicle and home mortgage payments. | U.S. District Court Southern District of New York
Menendez, 69, called the charges “baseless allegations” and said prosecutors “have misrepresented the normal work of a Congressional office.”
“For years, forces behind the scenes have repeatedly attempted to silence my voice and dig my political grave,” he said in a statement. “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.”
David Schertler, a lawyer for Menendez’s wife, Nadine Menendez, said: “Mrs. Menendez denies any criminal conduct and will vigorously contest these charges in court.”
Menendez and his co-defendants will make an initial court appearance on Wednesday morning, according to the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s office.
It is the second time Menendez has been indicted. Menendez went to trial in 2017, resulting in a hung jury. Though prosecutors briefly intended to retry the case, they soon gave up.
The latest indictment of the prominent Democrat gives DOJ a chance to appear politically evenhanded as it faces withering criticism from former President Donald Trump and his allies over the two federal criminal indictments that Trump is under.
The 39-page indictment alleges explosive conduct by Menendez, who holds the powerful chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in the form of three schemes. All of the alleged schemes occurred after Menendez began dating his now-wife, in early 2018. The two married in October 2020.
Left: Sen. Bob Menendez (back right) and his wife, Nadine Menendez, with an associate at dinner. Right: A luxury car the couple is accused of accepting as a bribe. | U.S. District Court Southern District of New York
In the first scheme, according to prosecutors, the senator “provided sensitive U.S. Government information and took other steps that secretly aided the Government of Egypt,” as well as pressured an official at the U.S. Department of Agriculture to benefit the business of Wael Hana, one of the three businesspeople defendants.
Hana, who is originally from Egypt, is a longtime friend of Nadine Menendez and had close connections with Egyptian officials, according to the indictment. Shortly after Nadine Menendez began dating the senator, she and Hana introduced Egyptian military and intelligence officials to the senator “for the purpose of establishing and solidifying a corrupt agreement” in which Hana, assisted by the two other indicted businesspeople, Fred Daibes and Jose Uribe, provided hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to the couple, according to the indictment.
In exchange for the bribes, the indictment says, the senator took acts to benefit Hana and the Egyptian government, “including with respect to foreign military sales and foreign military financing” — matters over which Menendez had significant influence as the chairman and, prior to that, as the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Among other things, the indictment alleges, at a dinner in May 2018, Menendez gave Hana non-public information about the U.S.’s provision of military aid to Egypt, after which Hana texted an Egyptian 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.”
Menendez also allegedly contacted officials at the USDA, seeking to preserve the ability of Hana’s company, IS EG Halal Certified, Inc., to be the exclusive halal certifier for U.S. food exports to Egypt — a status that was under threat at the time and one that, if eliminated, would have jeopardized Hana’s ability to pay bribes to Nadine Menendez.
In the second alleged scheme, prosecutors say Menendez used his position “to seek to disrupt” a New Jersey state criminal prosecution of an associate of Uribe and a New Jersey state criminal investigation involving an employee of Uribe. Menendez contacted a supervisor in the New Jersey attorney general’s office, trying to pressure the official — unsuccessfully, according to the indictment — into causing favorable outcomes for Uribe’s associates.
Uribe subsequently facilitated Nadine Menendez’s purchase of a $60,000 Mercedez-Benz convertible by meeting her in the parking lot of a restaurant to give her $15,000 in cash, which she then used to buy the car, and then he or his associate made monthly financing payments for the convertible, prosecutors say.
And in the third alleged scheme, prosecutors say Menendez sought to influence the pending federal prosecution of Daibes, a New Jersey real estate developer who was charged in 2018 with obtaining loans under false pretenses from a bank, in exchange for cash, furniture and gold bars.
Menendez’s status as the senior senator in New Jersey allowed him to recommend candidates for the position of U.S. attorney in the state, and in late 2021 he recommended to President Joe Biden that Philip Sellinger, whom the indictment doesn’t name, get the job because Menendez believed he could influence Sellinger with respect to Daibes’ case, according to prosecutors. Sellinger, however, was recused from the case after he took office, and Menendez then placed several phone calls to the prosecutor who was overseeing the Daibes case instead of Sellinger.
In exchange for the senator’s efforts, the indictment says, Daibes provided Menendez and his wife with cash, a recliner for their home and two one-kilogram gold bars worth more than $120,000 as well as nine one-ounce gold bars. Prosecutors said Daibes’ case wasn’t influenced by Menendez’s contacts and that Daibes pled guilty pursuant to a plea agreement that provided for a probationary sentence.
During a search of the Menendezes’ New Jersey home in June 2022, federal agents found “over $480,000 in cash — much of it stuffed into envelopes and hidden in clothing, closets, and a safe” along with $70,000 in Nadine Menendez’s safe-deposit box, the indictment says. Agents also found more than $100,000 worth of gold bars provided by Hana or Daibes and home furnishings provided by Hana and Daibes, according to charging papers.
A spokeswoman for Hana said, “We are still reviewing the charges but based upon our initial review, they have absolutely no merit.” Hana is in Egypt, the spokeswoman said, and is “expected to voluntarily return to the U.S.” to appear in court next week.
An attorney for Daibes, Tim Donohue, said, “We are confident that Mr. Daibes will be completely exonerated of all charges.” An attorney for Uribe didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
The indictment — the culmination of years of investigation by federal prosecutors in New York — is the latest legal blow for New Jersey’s senior senator. Menendez has survived two previous federal investigations.
The first, in 2006, concerned whether Menendez had done favors for a nonprofit that had paid him about $300,000 in rent. Federal authorities eventually dropped that probe.
The second came to a head in 2015, when federal prosecutors in New Jersey brought bribery charges against Menendez, alleging he helped an eye doctor with federal officials in exchange for vacations at the doctor’s Dominican villa, flights on his private jet and campaign donations.
Although Menendez’s trial ended in a hung jury, he was later admonished by the Senate Ethics Committee regarding his conduct with the doctor.
The New York indictment comes as Menendez has said he plans to run for reelection in 2024, and most who know him don’t believe he would back down even while facing federal criminal charges. New Jersey Democrats stuck with Menendez through his previous corruption allegations and trial.
But as the New York investigation has unfolded, Democratic leaders have privately been wary about jeopardizing a normally-safe Senate seat in a blue state by sticking with Menendez — although, fearing upsetting the notoriously prickly senator, they’ve been loath to talk about it publicly.
Menendez, after all, appears to have been anything but cowed by attempts by either prosecutors or his political adversaries to remove him from office and put him behind bars.
“To those who were digging my political grave so they could jump into my seat,” he said upon exiting the Newark federal courthouse after his mistrial in 2017, “I know who you are and I won’t forget you.”
Josh Gerstein contributed to this report.
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