Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and his wife are scheduled to be arraigned Wednesday in Manhattan on federal charges alleging they agreed to and accepted “hundreds of thousands of dollars” in bribes to enrich three New Jersey businessmen and benefit the Egyptian government.
A three-count indictment unsealed Friday in the Southern District of New York alleges Menendez used his influence as a senator and chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee to benefit the businessmen, Wael “Will” Hana, Jose Uribe and Fred Daibe. In return, he and his wife, Nadine, received cash, gold bars, a luxury vehicle and more.
Despite Menendez originating from New Jersey, the indictment comes out of the SDNY due to some of the transactions occurring in Manhattan, including the sale of gold bars and meetings in restaurants, according to the indictment.
Menendez and his wife are expected to formally hear the charges against them and enter their pleas Wednesday morning, according to a court spokesperson. Two of the businessmen, Uribe and Daibes, are also scheduled to be arraigned Wednesday, the spokesperson said. Hana on Tuesday entered a plea of not guilty for bribing Menendez.
Menendez’s case will be overseen by U.S. District Judge Sidney Stein, a Clinton appointee, who is also from New Jersey.
The New Jersey Democrat faces three counts, including conspiracy to commit extortion under color of official right, a charge for public officials who take bribes in return for official acts.
In his first public remarks since the indictment was unsealed, Menendez on Monday was defiant about not resigning from office during a briefing from Union City, New Jersey where he began his storied political career, including serving as that city’s mayor decades ago. He has temporarily stepped down from the Foreign Relations chairmanship.
Nearly two-dozen senators have called on Menendez to step down from his Senate post overall, many of them Democrats including fellow New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.). A longtime Menendez ally and friend, Booker said in a statement that Menendez’ decision to remain in Congress “is a mistake.”
“Stepping down is not an admission of guilt but an acknowledgment that holding public office often demands tremendous sacrifices at great personal cost. Senator Menendez has made these sacrifices in the past to serve. And in this case, he must do so again,” Booker said.
Many Democrats have maintained Menendez should be considered innocent until proven guilty but have also acknowledged the indictment’s damning details.
Prosecutors say Menendez passed along sensitive U.S. government information to “secretly aid” a corrupt regime in Egypt. In one such instance detailed in the indictment, non-public information the senator requested from the State Department was sent to an Egyptian government official through Menendez’ wife and Hana.
“The indictment alleges that Sen. Menendez used his power and influence — including his leadership role on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — to benefit the government of Egypt in various ways,” Damian Williams, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said Friday during a press conference announcing the charges.
Menendez also pressured a U.S. Department of Agriculture official to protect a business monopoly Egypt granted to Hana, according to the indictment. That monopoly was used to fund the bribes paid to Menendez through his wife, who is a longtime friend of Hana’s, the indictment says.
Federal agents said they found more than $480,000 in cash – much of it stuffed into envelopes or hidden in clothing, closets and a safe – and more than $100,000 worth of gold bars after searching the Menendez’s New Jersey home last year.
Prosecutors also allege Menendez also used his influence to meddle in a New Jersey criminal investigation of Uribe and the prosecution of Daibes.
Menendez has stepped down as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, but had not heeded calls to resign as senator. He also has not indicated if he plans to run for reelection in 2024 but has already garnered a primary opponent for his seat, considered to be a safe bet for Democrats.
Menendez was also indicted on federal corruption charges in 2015 for accepting gifts and trips from a donor, but those charges were dropped in 2018 after a jury failed to reach a verdict.
Williams, the Southern District of New York’s top prosecutor, said Friday that the investigation into Menendez, his wife and their “corrupt relationship” with the three businessmen is “very much ongoing.”