Influential Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez indicted, gold bars and stacks of cash seized

U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey and his wife were indicted Friday on charges that they took bribes of cash, gold bars and a luxury car for a range of corrupt acts, including having the Democrat use his influence over foreign affairs to benefit the authoritarian government of Egypt.

Menendez, 69, will have to step down as chair of the Senate’s foreign relations committee. Rules for the Senate Democratic caucus say that any member charged with a felony must step aside from a leadership position.

“We are not done. And I want to encourage anyone with information to come forward and to come forward quickly,” U.S. Attorney Damian Williams, the top federal prosecutor in Manhattan, told reporters at a news conference detailing aspects of the government’s case.

Among the serious allegations and details:

  • A search of the couple’s home turned up $100,000 US in gold bars and $480,000 in hidden cash prosecutors allege were bribes.
  • The senator is accused of providing sensitive U.S. government information to Egypt.
  • He is accused of ghost-writing a letter on behalf of Egypt urging his U.S. colleagues to lift a hold on $300 million in aid to Cairo.
  • Nadine Arslanian Menendez was given a Mercedes-Benz after her husband called a government official about a business associate’s criminal case.

Menendez denied the charges, saying in an emailed statement he has been falsely accused of accepting bribes but “will not be distracted” from work in the Senate.

“For years, forces behind the scenes have repeatedly attempted to silence my voice and dig my political grave,” Menendez said. “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.”

‘We are the proud owners of a 2019 Mercedes’

In the current case, prosecutors allege Menendez and his wife accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes from three business associates, Wael Hana, Jose Uribe and Fred Daibes.

They also allege the senator sought to derail a criminal investigation into an associate — Daibes, a longtime friend and prominent New Jersey developer — by pushing for a U.S. attorney nominee he believed could be influenced.

After Menendez called a government official about Daibes’s case, according to the indictment, his wife was given a Mercedes-Benz convertible by Uribe and Hana, both friends of the senator and his wife.

Two men in suits and ties flank a woman in professional attire.
As an influential Democratic senator on the foreign relations committee, Bob Menendez, right, has occasion to deal with foreign officials. Menendez is shown with Chrystia Freeland of the Liberal government, and then-Tennessee senator Bob Corker on June 13, 2018. (J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)

After the transaction was complete, Nadine Menendez texted her husband to say: “Congratulations mon amour de la vie, we are the proud owners of a 2019 Mercedes,” with a heart emoji.

The new charges follow a yearslong probe. In 2019, federal agents raided the offices of IS EG Halal, a New Jersey company that had been named by the Egyptian government as the sole company to certify that imported meat met religious requirements.

The designation surprised U.S. agriculture officials and the switch happened the same year that Menendez became engaged to his wife, who was an acquaintance of Hana, IS EG Halal’s owner.

The senator’s wife, 56, was battling foreclosure on her Bergen County property in 2018. When she and Menendez got engaged it began a period of financial turnaround for her.

By 2019, her foreclosure case was dismissed and her assets included gold bars valued between $100,000 to $250,000, according to a 2022 Senate disclosure form. Between April and June of 2022, the couple cashed out at least part of their precious metal holdings, forms show, selling between $200,000 and $400,000 worth of gold bars, while keeping at least $250,000 worth of them.

David Schertler, a lawyer for Menendez’s wife, said she “denies any criminal conduct and will vigorously contest these charges in court.”

Not his first indictment

The Senate Historical Office says Menendez appears to be the first sitting senator in U.S. history to have been indicted on two unrelated criminal allegations.

When Menendez was indicted in 2015, the Washington Post reported he was the 12th sitting senator to ever be indicted.

In that case, he was accused of using his political influence to help a Florida eye doctor, Dr. Salomon Melgen, who had lavished him with gifts and campaign contributions.

A man is shown at a podium speaking outdoors, in front of several media members and photographers.
Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez speaks to reporters in front of the courthouse in Newark, N.J., on Nov. 16, 2017, after the jury said it was hopelessly deadlocked on all charges against the New Jersey politician. (Seth Wenig/The Associated Press)

After a jury deadlocked in November 2017 on charges Menendez faced, including bribery, fraud and conspiracy, prosecutors dropped the case. Menendez maintained his innocence throughout.

Melgen received a 17-year prison sentence for health care fraud in 2017, but then-president Donald Trump commuted his prison sentence in 2021.

Menendez faces reelection next year in the Senate, where Democrats hold a narrow majority and will have to defend about two-thirds of the seats up for grabs in 2024.

The son of Cuban immigrants, Menendez spent 14 years in the House of Representatives before his Senate tenure began in 2006.

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