New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez and his wife, Nadine, have been charged with several counts of bribery, according to a corruption indictment unsealed Friday.
The indictment said a search of the senator's home turned up hundreds of thousands of dollars in allegedly ill-gotten gold bars and cash - much of it hidden in clothing, closets and a lock box.
Prosecutors said Menendez inappropriately wielded his power as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to provide aid to Egypt. In exchange, the authoritarian government allegedly funneled money into a little-known halal meat inspection business belonging to Nadine Menendez's friend.
In April 2020, after meeting with an Egyptian representative, Menendez urged former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to get more involved in negotiations among Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan over Ethiopia's construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, a major concern for Egypt, which fears a disruption of Nile River waters.
Prosecutors said Menendez ghost-wrote a letter to his peers in the Senate encouraging them to provide $300 million in aid to Egypt. The North African nation has a long-standing record of human rights abuses and receives more than $1 billion a year from Washington, making it among the top recipients of U.S. government aid.
The senator also stands accused of relaying sensitive information to Egyptian politicians without approval.
Menendez wrote in an emailed statement that prosecutors had confused "the normal work of a congressional office" with bad-faith dealings.
Menendez will have to step down as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee effective immediately, according to Senate conduct rules. Whether Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer will call on him to resign from the committee or even relinquish his seat is unclear.
Separately, prosecutors said Menendez and his wife took hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes from three businessmen: Wael Hana, Jose Uribe and Fred Daibes.
In one instance, prosecutors said, Menendez recommended that President Joe Biden nominate Phillip R. Sellinger as U.S. attorney for New Jersey, believing he could persuade Sellinger to be lenient with Daibes, who was facing a criminal prosecution. Sellinger is not accused of misconduct.
Menendez was also said to have used his authority to intervene in another investigation by the New Jersey attorney general's office. The senator allegedly phoned a government official to discuss a probe of an Uribe co-worker, after which Uribe and Hana gifted Nadine Menendez a 2019 Mercedes-Benz convertible, according to the indictment.
"Congratulations mon amour de la vie, we are the proud owners of a 2019 Mercedes," Menendez's wife texted him, adding a heart emoji.
Authorities discovered more than $100,000 in solid gold bars and nearly half a million dollars in cash. Photos included in the indictment show that the money was found in white envelopes stuffed into the pockets of jackets with the senator's name on them.
The DNA of one of Menendez's co-defendants was detected on the money-filled envelopes. The indictment also revealed an internet search by Menendez: "how much is one kilo of gold worth?"
"For years, forces behind the scenes have repeatedly attempted to silence my voice and dig my political grave," Menendez said of the charges, which he vehemently denied. "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 senator said that he "will not be distracted" from his official duties.
Menendez is the first sitting U.S. senator to have been indicted in two independent criminal cases, according to Senate Historical Office records.
The new corruption scandal comes six years after a judge threw out charges that the senator used his political clout to help a Florida eye doctor who had showered him with gifts and campaign donations. Menendez was accused of strong-arming government officials to settle a Medicare billing disagreement in favor of the doctor's friend, among other illegal favors.
Menendez is the son of Cuban immigrants. His nearly 40-year political career has included six years as mayor of Union City, New Jersey, a seat in New Jersey's state legislature, and 14 years in the U.S. House of Representatives. In 2006, Menendez inherited Governor Jon Corzine's Senate seat when Corzine gave it up to become governor of New Jersey.
Menendez is up for reelection next year, but it's unclear if he can win voters over again, especially after Governor Phillip D. Murphy of New Jersey, a former ally, called on the senator to resign in an early Friday evening statement.
Some information for this report came from The Associated Press.