WASHINGTON (AP) — Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez and his wife are accused of taking bribes of gold bars, a luxury car and cash in exchange for using his outsized sway in foreign affairs to help the government of Egypt — and others — as well as other corrupt acts, according to an indictment unsealed Friday.
Investigators say they found nearly $500,000 in cash hidden in clothing and closets as well as $100,000 in gold bars in a search of the home the 69-year-old senator from New Jersey shares with his wife. Menendez serves as the powerful chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The indictment, the second in eight years against Menendez, and comes after a yearslong 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, accusing prosecutors of misrepresenting “the normal work of a congressional office.” In the meantime, he stepped down from his chairmanship, as Senate rules say he must.
A lawyer for Menendez’s wife, Nadine, said she “denies any criminal conduct and will vigorously contest these charges in court.”
USING HIS INFLUENCE AS CHAIRMAN
Menendez is facing bribery, fraud and extortion charges. The indictment includes a scathing 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 don’t.
Using his position, Menendez took steps to secretly aid the government of Egypt in exchange for bribes, the indictment says. 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 U.S. military aid, including military equipment and grants of more than $1 billion a year. In recent years, the U.S. has withheld some aid due to concerns over human rights violations.
The indictment charges that Menendez disclosed nonpublic information to the businessmen about U.S. military aid and the number and nationality of employees at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo. That information was then forwarded to Egyptian officials. Prosecutors said Menendez also secretly ghost-wrote a letter on behalf of Egypt to other senators requesting release of a hold on $300 million in aid. He also at one point texted his wife to tell one of the businessmen that he was going to “sign off” on a sale of military equipment to Egypt.
The State Department typically seeks the input of the chairperson and top minority senator on the Foreign Relations panel when it comes to foreign military financing and foreign military sales, and the department generally will not go forward if one of the two senators objects.
Egypt’s ministry of foreign affairs 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 state legislator and spent 14 years in the U.S. House of Representatives. He was first appointed to his Senate seat in 2006.
His wife, previously known as Nadine Arslania, 56, was unemployed before they met in 2018, but the following year she incorporated a new consulting company, Strategic International Business Consultants LLC., the indictment states. A foreclosure case against her was closed soon after.
After their marriage in 2020, she came into possession of a large amount of gold, some of which she later sold for between $200,000 and $400,000, according to the senator’s financial disclosure reports. Her attorney David Schertler, did not respond to a request for comment about his client’s international business work or how she acquired the gold bars.
The couple is accused of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes from three business associates: Wael Hana, Jose Uribe and Fred Daibes.
Hana is a friend of Nadine Menendez and the Egyptian-American founder of a business that certifies beef imported into Egypt meets Islamic religious standards. He had no previous experience in Halal certification, but in 2019 the Egyptian government gave his company a monopoly.
He’s accused of putting together and paying for meetings and dinners with Menendez and Egyptian officials where military sales and financing were discussed, according to the indictment. He also helped pay Nadine Menendez’ mortgage, the indictment states.
Fred Daibes is a wealthy developer in 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 nominate a U.S. attorney for New Jersey who would protect Daibes.
Jose Uribe is also a New Jersey businessman in the trucking and insurance business who was friends with Hana, according to the indictment. Hana and Uribe got Nadine Menendez a Mercedes convertible after the senator called a government official about another case involving an associate of Uribe, according to the indictment.
“Congratulations mon amour de la vie, we are the proud owners of a 2019 Mercedes,” Nadine Menendez texted her husband, along with a heart emoji.
Hana’s spokesperson said the charges had “absolutely no merit.”
Messages seeking comment were left for lawyers for Daibes and Uribe.
This appears to be the first time in U.S. history that a sitting senator has been indicted twice in two unrelated cases, according to the Senate Historical Office.
Menendez was once charged with bribery, fraud and conspiracy, accused of accepting lavish gifts to pressure government officials on behalf of a Florida doctor and friend. He was accused of pressuring government officials to resolve a Medicare billing dispute in favor of Dr. Salomon Melgen as well as securing visas for the doctor’s girlfriends and helping protect a contract to provide port-screening equipment to the Dominican Republic.
Menendez has always maintained his innocence. His lawyers said campaign contributions and gifts — which included trips on his private jet to a resort in the Dominican Republic and a vacation in Paris — were tokens of their longtime friendship, not bribes. Melgen was convicted of health care fraud in 2017, but President Donald Trump commuted his prison sentence.
A jury deadlocked at trial and prosecutors dropped the case. Menendez was rebuked by the Senate Ethics Committee, but New Jersey voters returned him to the Senate months later. He defeated a well-financed challenger in a midterm election that broke a Republican lock on power in Washington.
Menendez faces reelection next year in a bid to extend his three-decade career in Washington as Democrats hold a narrow majority in the Senate.
NEXT STEPS IN THE SENATE
According to rules in the Senate Democratic caucus, Menendez has to step down as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said he would relinquish the position “until the matter has been resolved.” Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., is expected to replace him as chairman, as he did between 2015 and 2018 the last time Menendez faced federal charges and a trial.
Given the severity of this indictment and that Menendez is charged with using his role on the panel to benefit himself personally, Schumer could also ask Menendez to leave the committee altogether. Schumer has not yet made any comments on the indictment.
Schumer could also call on Menendez to resign from the Senate, but that becomes more complicated as Democrats have only a one-seat majority. While New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy would likely appoint a Democrat to replace Menendez, Schumer may not want to create any uncertainty about the balance of power.
And even if Schumer called on Menendez to resign, he wouldn’t have to. The seat is his until the next election, and Menendez has not yet said whether he is running again. In a statement, Menendez struck a defiant tone: “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.”