Feds Accuse U.S. Sen. Menendez Of Taking Gold, Car & Cash For Favors

By Nikita Biryukov | New Jersey Monitor

U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez  in 2020. File photo.

Federal authorities indicted U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez for the second time Friday, charging him with conspiracy to commit bribery and related offenses over his alleged aid to a North Jersey businessman and an attempt to disrupt criminal probes into allies.

Menendez, a Democrat and New Jersey’s senior senator, was charged with one count each of conspiracy to commit bribery, conspiracy to commit honest services fraud, and conspiracy to commit extortion under the color of official right.

Authorities are accusing the senator and his wife, Nadine Menendez, of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes in exchange for official favors meant to aid three men — Wael Hana, Jose Uribe, and Fred Daibes — and the nation of Egypt. Nadine Menendez, Hana, Uribe, and Daibes are named in the indictment.

“The senator agreed to do these things and use his power in this way because Hana was paying bribes, because Uribe was paying bribes, and because Daibes was paying bribes,” Damian Williams, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, said during a press conference Friday. “Fortunately, the public officials the senator sought to influence did not bend to the pressure.”

Some of the alleged bribes were paid in gold or a luxury vehicle, among other things, authorities said. Prosecutors say they found more than $480,000 in cash in Menendez’s home, some of it in envelopes with Daibes’ fingerprints on them. Other envelopes with cash were found inside jackets bearing Menendez’s name.

In a statement, Menendez denied the charges and claimed the investigation was rooted in racial bias. Menendez is Latino.

“For years, forces behind the scenes have repeatedly attempted to silence my voice and dig my political grave,” he 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. The excesses of these prosecutors is apparent.”

He claimed prosecutors had misrepresented what he called “the normal work of a congressional office.”

On Friday afternoon Menendez stepped down as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Friday’s charges mark the second time federal authorities have lodged a criminal case against Menendez. A previous 2017 corruption trial ended with a deadlocked jury. Prosecutors say the alleged schemes behind the new charges began the year following that mistrial.

The indictment accuses Menendez of agreeing to speed military aid to Egypt in exchange for a low- or no-show job for his wife in 2018. In earlier years, the State Department had threatened to withhold hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid to the nation over its human rights record, echoing concerns raised by other senators.

It says the senator sought to obtain highly sensitive — but unclassified — information about staffing at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, which authorities say Menendez shared with his wife, who is accused of passing that information along to Egyptian officials.

Menendez is further accused of aiding a firm backed by Hana and Daibes to obtain a monopoly to test whether Egyptian food exports met halal food standards and pressuring the U.S. Department of Agriculture to cease complaints over the contract, which the agency said risked supply chain disruptions and would increase the cost of halal goods in the United States.

The firm, IS EG Halal, allegedly paid thousands to a consulting business owned by Nadine Menendez in payments authorities said were facilitated by Daibes. The firm also allegedly purchased exercise machines and an air purifier that were delivered to the senator’s home.

Authorities allege Menendez took other actions to aid Egypt at the behest of the nation’s officials, including by urging the U.S. Departments of State and Treasury to intervene in negotiations over a dam on the Nile River.

“Anytime you need anything you have my number and we will make everything happen,” Nadine Menendez said in a text to an Egyptian official in early 2020, according to the indictment.

Menendez is also charged with interfering in a state criminal investigation into an associate and relative of Uribe, who is alleged to have paid for the aid with a Mercedez-Benz convertible that retails for more than $60,000.

Uribe allegedly provided Nadine Menendez $15,000 in cash for a down payment and later made more than $30,000 in car payments from a trucking company he owned. Those payments ceased after federal agents executed search warrants in June 2022.

The indictment accuses Menendez of seeking to influence a separate federal criminal case targeting Daibes by moving to install a U.S. attorney who might provide Daibes with favorable treatment and by pressuring officials involved in the prosecution.

Daibes, who was accused of conspiring to obtain fraudulent bank loans, allegedly returned the favor with gold bars worth more than $150,000.

The previous charges against Menendez accused him of exchanging favors and gifts with a wealthy eye doctor. After a mistrial in that case was declared in November 2017, Menendez won a closer-than-expected Democratic primary in June 2018 and won a third term that November against Bob Hugin, who now chairs the New Jersey Republican Party.

On Friday, the party called on Menendez to step down.

“While we acknowledge the senator’s presumption of innocence and right to a fair trial, it is clear that his decade-long legal woes have become an embarrassing distraction. For the good of the people of this state, who deserve full and devoted representation, we call on Senator Robert Menendez to resign,” New Jersey GOP spokeswoman Alexandra Wilkes said in a statement.

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