MANHATTAN (CN) - Senator Robert Menendez has been charged with bribery, according to a federal indictment unsealed on Friday from the Southern District of New York after investigators seized gold bars and about $480,000 cash from his home.
The New Jersey Democrat is being charged alongside his wife, Nadine Menendez, for the alleged corruption scheme. New Jersey real estate developer Fred Daibes; a friend of Nadine Menendez, Wael Hana; and businessman Jose Uribe were also named as defendants in the indictment.
According to Damian Williams, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, the senator and his wife took hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of bribes from Daibes, Hana and Uribe in exchange for political influence.
"The indictment alleges that, through that relationship, the senator and his wife accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes in exchange for Senator Menendez using his power and influence to protect and to enrich those businessmen and to benefit the government of Egypt," Williams said at a news conference Friday.
Those bribes, the indictment claims, came in the form of home furnishings, a Mercedes Benz, over $480,000 cash and gold bars worth more than $100,000, all of which were found by investigators in the Menendez home.
Williams added that much of the cash was stuffed into envelopes found in Senator Menendez's clothing.
The gifts were in exchange for a litany of corrupt schemes, prosecutors claimed. Among them was one in which Menendez tried to influence the Department of Agriculture to protect Hana's business monopoly in Egypt. In another, the senator tried to influence President Biden's nomination for the U.S. attorney for New Jersey in an effort to protect a businessman facing criminal investigations.
"Fortunately, the public officials the senator sought to influence did not bend to the pressure. That's a good thing," Williams said.
Menendez, who serves as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, is also accused of providing the Egyptian government with sensitive U.S. information as part of the same alleged schemes.
"Among other actions, Senator Menendez allegedly provided sensitive, non-public, U.S. government information to Egyptian officials, and otherwise took steps to secretly aid the government of Egypt," Williams said.
In one instance, the indictment says that the senator told his wife that he was going to "sign off" on a $99 million sale to the Egyptian military. His wife then forwarded that information to Hana, who shared it with Egyptian officials.
One official replied to Hana's message with a "thumbs up" emoji, the indictment claims.
But Menendez vehemently denied the allegations listed in the indictment, calling them "baseless."
"For years, forces behind the scenes have repeatedly attempted to silence my voice and dig my political grave," Menendez said in a statement Friday. "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. They have misrepresented the normal work of a Congressional office," Menendez continued. "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."
The senator closed his statement with a plea to supporters and allies.
"To my supporters, friends and the community at large, I ask that you recall the other times the prosecutors got it wrong and that you reserve judgement," Menendez said. "I am confident that this matter will be successfully resolved once all of the facts are presented and my fellow New Jerseyans will see this for what it is."
This is now the second time in the last decade that the 69-year-old senator has been charged for corruption. Menendez was previously charged with accepting gifts from a wealthy eye doctor, but the trial ended with a hung jury in 2017. He referenced those charges, too, in Friday's statement.
"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," Menendez said.
The defendants, including Senator Menendez, are set to appear in Manhattan federal court on Wednesday morning.
Considered one of the most influential Democrats in Congress, Menendez has been a senator since 2006. He is up for reelection in 2024, and is already facing another Democratic primary challenger: Kyle Jasey, a Jersey City-based real estate investor and son of state assemblywoman Mila Jasey.
Source: Courthouse News Service