Federal authorities on Friday unsealed an indictment charging New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, a Democrat and chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and his wife, Nadine, with bribery offenses.
According to the indictment, "those bribes included cash, gold, payments toward a home mortgage, compensation for a low-or-no-show job, a luxury vehicle, and other things of value."
At a press conference on Friday, Damian Williams, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced that his office obtained a three-count indictment against Menendez, his wife, and a trio of New Jersey businessmen – Wael Hana, Jose Uribe and Fred Daides – who they allege "engaged in a corrupt relationship" with the couple between 2018 and 2022.
"The indictment alleges that through that relationship, the senator and his wife accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars of bribes in exchange for Sen. Menendez using his power and influence to protect and to enrich those businessmen and to benefit the government of Egypt," Williams said Friday.
"Among other actions, Sen. Menendez allegedly provided sensitive, nonpublic U.S. government information to Egyptian officials, and otherwise took steps to secretly aid the government of Egypt," he said. "We also allege that Sen. Menendez improperly pressured a senior official at the U.S. Department of Agriculture to protect a lucrative monopoly that the government of Egypt had awarded to Hana, a lucrative monopoly that Hana then use to fund certain bribe payments."
They also allege that Menendez improperly attempted to "try to disrupt a criminal investigation and prosecution undertaken by the New Jersey Attorney General's office related to an associate and a relative of Uribe" and attempted to install a U.S. attorney that would protect Daibes, who faced federal prosecution.
The charges against Menendez and his wife are conspiracy to commit bribery, conspiracy to commit honest services fraud, and conspiracy to commit extortion under color of official right.
A search of the couple's New Jersey home turned up more than $480,000 in cash and approximately $150,000 in gold bars, prosecutors said.
"Special agents with the FBI executed search warrants on the residence and safe deposit box of Sen. Menendez and Nadine Menendez in New Jersey," said Williams. "When they got there, they discovered approximately $500,000 of cash stuffed into envelopes and closets. Some of the cash was stuffed in the senator's jacket pockets."
Some of the envelopes of cash contained Daibes' DNA, he said, adding that agents "also discovered a lot of gold" provided by Daibes and Hana, and a Mercedez Benz given by Uribe.
"My office remains firmly committed to rooting out public corruption without fear or favor and without any regard to partisan politics," Williams said. "That's in our DNA. Always has been, always will be."
He also emphasized that "this investigation is very much ongoing. We are not done. And I want to encourage anyone with information to come forward and to come forward."
In a statement, Menendez proclaimed his innocence, alleging an "active smear campaign of anonymous sources and innuendos" and claiming that "forces behind the scenes have repeatedly attempted to silence my voice and dig my political grave."
"The excesses of these prosecutors is apparent," the New Jersey lawmaker charged. "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," he said. "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."
David Schertler, an attorney for Menendez’s wife, Nadine, told The Associated Press that she "denies any criminal conduct and will vigorously contest these charges in court.”
The news comes less than a decade after Menendez was charged in an unrelated corruption case, in which he was accused of accepting lavish gifts on behalf of a Florida doctor, who was a friend and donor to the New Jersey Democrat. That case ended nearly six years ago in a hung jury and the Justice Department dropped the charges against Menendez in 2018, though he was "severely admonished" by the Senate's Ethics Committee in a letter. He proclaimed his innocence throughout the process and won reelection to the Senate that year.
Menendez, 69, is up for reelection next year as Democrats seek to maintain their narrow majority in Congress. Should the longtime Garden State lawmaker step down, it will be up to Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy to name his replacement ahead of a November 2024 election. Menendez already faces at least one Democratic primary challenger and three Republicans who are vying to flip his Senate seat.
The Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, an ethics watchdog, called on Menendez to resign, saying in a statement that "stain of corruption continuously taints" the New Jersey lawmaker.
"The conduct outlined in today’s indictment and the evidence presented are even more damning," CREW President Noah Bookbinder, a former federal corruption prosecutor, said in a statement. "The people of New Jersey should not have to be constantly questioning whether one of their senators is taking action for them or to line his pockets. Menendez deserves a fair trial and a presumption of innocence on these latest charges, but it is not appropriate for him to remain in office. Out of respect for the institution of the Senate, he must step down."
In accordance with the rules of the Senate Democratic caucus, Menendez has stepped down as the Foreign Relations Committee chairman; any member charged with a felony must abandon their leadership role. Senate majority leader Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., announced the move Friday, The Hill reported. Menendez abdicated his role as the panel's dop Democrat in 2015 when he was charged, but resumed it when he was acquitted.
A growing number of Democrats have called for Menendez's resignation, including New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy; Rep. Andy Kim, D-N.J.; Rep. Mikie Sherrill, D-N.J.; and Rep. Dean Phillips, D-Minn. Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder also called for Menendez to step down, saying "the nation will be better served if he steps aside and allows a transition to occur that will best serve the people of New Jersey."
“The allegations in the indictment against Senator Menendez and four other defendants are deeply disturbing," Gov. Murphy said in a statement. "These are serious charges that implicate national security and the integrity of our criminal justice system,”
“The alleged facts are so serious that they compromise the ability of Senator Menendez to effectively represent the people of our state," he continued. "Therefore, I am calling for his immediate resignation.”
But Menendez has thus far resisted calls to resign.
“Those who believe in justice believe in innocence until proven guilty,” the New Jersey senator said late Friday in a statement. “I intend to continue to fight for the people of New Jersey with the same success I’ve had for the past five decades. This is the same record of success these very same leaders have lauded all along.”
"It is not lost on me how quickly some are rushing to judge a Latino and push him out of his seat," he added. "I am not going anywhere."