In a 39-page indictment, federal prosecutors on Friday accused Robert Menendez, the powerful New Jersey senator and Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, of accepting bribes that included a luxury, expensive exercise equipment, mortgage payments and gold bars. and more than $500,000 in cash.
In exchange for bribes, Mr. Menendez used his power to increase U.S. aid to Egypt and do favors for New Jersey businessmen, prosecutors said.
The indictment also names Mr. Menendez’s wife, Nadine Menendez, and three businessmen: Fred Daibes, a prominent New Jersey builder; Wael Hana, founder of a halal meat certification company headquartered in New Jersey; and Jose Uribe, a former insurance agent from Union City, New Jersey, who worked in the trucking industry.
All five defendants were charged with conspiracy to commit bribery and conspiracy to commit honest services fraud. The senator and his wife were also charged with conspiracy to commit extortion under color of official law, meaning they took advantage of Mr. Menendez’s role as a U.S. senator to force someone to give them something of value.
Mr. Menendez has maintained his innocence, accusing federal prosecutors in Manhattan who brought the case of misrepresentations about the routine work of Congress. Lawyers for Ms. Menendez, Mr. Hana and Mr. Daibes also denied the accusations. A representative for Mr. Uribe could not immediately be reached for comment Friday.
Here are four takeaways from the indictment:
Mr. Menendez is accused of using his official position to influence arms sales and U.S. aid to Egypt.
Mr. Menendez met Mr. Hana, an Egyptian-American businessman who had relationships with senior officials in Egypt’s intelligence services and military, in early 2018, according to the indictment. Ms. Menendez, and then Nadine Arslanian, had been longtime friends with Mr. Hana and were eager to introduce him to Mr. Menendez, whom she had recently started dating.
In the months and years that followed, prosecutors said, Ms. Menendez and Mr. Hana arranged a series of meetings for Mr. Menendez with Egyptian officials, who made various requests of the senator. In a text to an Egyptian general, Mr. Hana called Mr. Menendez “our man.”
The group struck a deal in which Mr. Menendez would use his position to facilitate sales and financing of military equipment to Egypt and, in exchange, Mr. Hana would put Ms. Menendez on his company’s payroll for a little or no work presented. , says the indictment.
At some point in 2018, prosecutors said, Mr. Menendez texted “highly sensitive” State Department information regarding employees of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo to Ms. Menendez. She forwarded it to Mr. Hana, who forwarded it to an Egyptian government official.
Mr. Menendez also wrote a lobbying letter to an Egyptian official in 2018 asking U.S. senators to release $300 million in aid, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors noted that at the time, the United States withheld additional financial aid until Egypt was able to prove it had made human rights improvements.
The indictment cites text messages from Ms. Menendez boasting about the senator’s influence. In March 2020, Ms. Menendez texted an Egyptian official: “Whenever you need anything, you have my number and we will make it happen.” »
The indictment says Mr. Menendez took steps to help the company that was paying his girlfriend.
By 2018, Mr. Hana’s business, IS EG Halal Certified Inc., had little or no revenue, prosecutors said, and Ms. Menendez began complaining to her husband and others that She wasn’t paid. She led at least one of Mr. Hana’s associates to believe that Mr. Menendez would stop working to help Mr. Hana and the Egyptian government unless Mr. Hana paid her, the indictment says.
In spring 2019, the Egyptian government granted Mr. Hana’s company a monopoly on certifying U.S. food exports to Egypt as halal compliant, even though the company had no experience in certification, the indictment states. The next day, Ms. Menendez texted Mr. Hana: “Looks like halal has passed. This could be a fantastic 2019 in every way.
The monopoly has led to increased costs for U.S. meat suppliers, prompting the U.S. Department of Agriculture to ask Egyptian authorities to reconsider their decision. Two days after a meeting in which Mr. Hana sought Mr. Menendez’s help in overcoming USDA objections, Mr. Menendez personally called a “high-level” USDA official and insisted for the agency to stop opposing the monopoly, the indictment says. The manager did not reverse his position, but Mr. Hana’s company retained its monopoly.
About two months later, Mr. Hana’s company paid Ms. Menendez $23,000 to bring her mortgage payments up to date. When it was suggested to Ms. Menendez that Mr. Hana might be surprised by the amount needed for the mortgage, she boasted that her actions would ultimately make Mr. Hana “more powerful than the Egyptian president.”
Yet Ms. Menendez believed she had not received all the money she was owed for helping Mr. Hana’s business, the indictment says. She texted Mr. Menendez, “I’m so upset,” and asked if she should text Mr. Hana’s associate, Mr. Daibes, to complain, but the senator responded, “ No, you shouldn’t text or email.” Ms. Menendez then called Mr. Daibes, and Mr. Hana’s company sent $10,000 to a consulting firm that Ms. Menendez had founded and which she often used to receive bribes, according to the deed of accusation.
Prosecutors said Mr. Menendez accepted money and valuables in exchange for interfering with prosecution and a criminal investigation.
In exchange for cash, furniture and gold bars, Mr. Menendez intervened in criminal proceedings on behalf of two New Jersey businessmen, one of whom was a longtime fundraiser for the senator, the indictment states.
Prosecutors said that in 2019, Mr. Uribe, who had previously been convicted of fraud, and Mr. Hana asked Mr. Menendez to intervene in the criminal proceedings against one of Mr. Uribe’s business associates . They offered to buy a new Mercedes-Benz convertible worth more than $60,000 for Ms. Menendez, who had recently been in a car accident that left her without a car.
Mr. Menendez pressured a senior prosecutor in the New Jersey attorney general’s office, which was overseeing the case, to resolve it in the defendant’s favor. The manager believed the request was inappropriate and did not agree to intervene, according to the indictment; Mr. Uribe’s associate ultimately got a plea deal without prison time.
A few days after Mr. Menendez called the prosecutor, Ms. Menendez texted Mr. Hana: “Everything is fine!” I’m so excited to get a car next week. She met Mr. Uribe in a restaurant parking lot, where he gave her about $15,000 in cash, according to the indictment. She paid the deposit for the new Mercedes the next day. After the purchase, Mr. Uribe texted her: “Are you happy?” ”, to which she replied: “I will never forget that”.
The indictment says Mr. Menendez also agreed to try to influence the federal prosecution of Mr. Daibes, who had raised money for him, including by recommending that President Biden appoint a particular lawyer, Philip R. .Sellinger, to be United States Attorney for New York. Jersey because the senator believed he could influence how Mr. Sellinger handled the prosecutions.
At some point during the period from late 2020 to early 2022 that Mr. Menendez sought to interfere in Mr. Daibes’ case, Mr. Menendez and Ms. Menendez were picked up at the airport after a trip to Egypt by Mr. Daibes’ driver. . The next day, the senator typed in an Internet search: “how much is a kilo of gold worth”. An FBI search of the couple’s home last year uncovered several gold bars that prosecutors said had been given to them by Mr. Daibes, as well as cash and furniture.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Jersey did not give in to the pressure campaign, the indictment says. Mr. Daibes pleaded guilty in April 2022.
The senator now faces calls for his resignation and at least one new primary challenger.
This is not the first time Mr. Menendez has been accused of corruption. In 2015, federal prosecutors in New Jersey indicted the senator for bribery and accused him of granting political favors to a wealthy ophthalmologist in exchange for lavish gifts worth nearly $1 million, including Caribbean vacations and campaign contributions. The trial ended in a hung jury in November 2017, and the judge subsequently acquitted Mr. Menendez of several charges. The Justice Department fired the others.
During this affair, the Democrats largely rallied behind Mr. Menendez, whose replacement would have been chosen by Chris Christie, then Republican governor. By Saturday afternoon, nearly every major Democratic figure in New Jersey had called on Mr. Menendez to resign, including Gov. Philip D. Murphy, prominent members of Congress, and influential state and county party chairmen. .
When the indictment was unsealed, Mr. Menendez already had a Democratic primary opponent, Kyle Jasey, a real estate lender and first-time candidate, who called the indictment “an embarrassment to our State “. Another New Jersey congressman, Andy Kim, declared his candidacy on social media Saturday afternoon.
Mr. Menendez’s colleagues in the Senate accepted his temporary resignation as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, but they did not ask him to leave office.
Nicolas Fandos reports contributed.