New Jersey Democratic Senator Bob Menendez finds himself entangled in a web of legal troubles once again, as he and his wife, Nadine Arslanian Menendez, were charged on Friday with corruption-related offenses. This marks the second time in a decade that Menendez has faced such allegations, as detailed in a newly unsealed federal indictment.
The indictment alleges that the Menendezes accepted “hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes” in exchange for the senator’s influence. The bribes in question included a mix of valuables, such as gold, cash, home mortgage payments, compensation for a dubious job arrangement, and even a luxury vehicle.
This isn’t the first time Menendez has had to confront corruption charges. A decade ago, he was accused of conspiracy, bribery, and honest services fraud tied to alleged personal favors. The Justice Department’s decision to bring forth another set of charges casts a shadow over his political career, especially as he is up for reelection next year, having served in the Senate since 2006.
In light of the recent charges, Senate Democratic Caucus rules have forced Menendez to step aside as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. However, he can still serve on the panel despite the legal cloud hanging over him.
Menendez swiftly responded to the indictment, condemning it in a statement. “For years, forces behind the scenes have repeatedly attempted to silence my voice and dig my political grave,” he said. “The excesses of these prosecutors are apparent. They have misrepresented the normal work of a Congressional office. 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.”
To prepare for the legal battle ahead, Menendez established a legal defense fund. Starting in April, his wife began selling gold bars, valued at up to $400,000, as reported in the senator’s most recent financial disclosure form.
The charges against Menendez include allegations of being part of a bribery conspiracy. The conspiracy counts also extend to his wife, Nadine, and three individuals described as New Jersey associates and businessmen: Wael Hana, Jose Uribe, and Fred Daibes. All the defendants are scheduled to appear in court at 10:30 a.m. ET on Wednesday.
The indictment outlines a scheme in which Menendez allegedly utilized his power as a U.S. senator to further personal interests and those of Egypt. Prosecutors claim that he sought to influence the appointment of the top federal prosecutor in New Jersey to benefit a business associate and pressured the Department of Agriculture to safeguard another contact’s business monopoly originating in Egypt.
In a notable incident, Menendez met with Hana, an Egyptian intelligence official, and others in his office in May 2019, aiming to counter the U.S. agency’s opposition to Hana’s business venture. Subsequently, he allegedly contacted an Agriculture Department official to halt opposition to Hana’s venture, ultimately allowing it to maintain its monopoly.
During searches conducted in 2022, federal agents discovered nearly $500,000 in cash, some hidden in envelopes bearing Menendez’s name. Some of these envelopes contained fingerprints or DNA linked to the business contacts implicated in the bribery scheme. In addition to the cash, investigators found a luxury vehicle paid for by Jose Uribe in Menendez’s garage, home furnishings from other business contacts, and gold bars.
Notably, Menendez faced similar charges in 2015, involving allegations of accepting political contributions, luxurious accommodations, and private jet rides from Dr. Salomon Melgen, an ophthalmologist, in exchange for political favors. The corruption trial that ensued ended in a mistrial in November 2017, with the jury reporting a deadlock. Following the mistrial, a federal judge acquitted Menendez of several charges in 2018, and the Justice Department dropped the remaining charges against him. Dr. Melgen, on the other hand, was convicted of health care fraud and received a 17-year sentence, which was later commuted by former President Donald Trump in 2021.
Menendez, in response to the mistrial in 2017, issued a stern warning to his detractors, saying, “To those who were digging my political grave so that they could jump into my seat, I know who you are, and I won’t forget you.” As he faces these new charges, the senator’s political future hangs in the balance once again, with legal proceedings set to unfold in the coming weeks.