Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) has been charged with bribery in a federal indictment formally unsealed Friday at 11 a.m.
The indictment accuses Menendez—the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee—with accepting “hundreds of thousands of dollars of bribes in exchange for using Menendez’s influence as a Senator to seek to... benefit the Arab Republic of Egypt.”
The alleged payoffs came from three New Jersey businessmen and included cash, gold bars, payments toward a home mortgage, a no-show job, a Mercedes, and “other things of value,” according to the indictment.
The feds say they found more than $480,000 in cash stuffed into envelopes and hidden in clothing, closets, and a safe in Menendez’s New Jersey home, and more than $70,000 in his wife’s safe deposit box. Some of the envelopes contained DNA and fingerprints of one of the alleged co-conspirators, mob-connected real estate magnate Fred Daibes, and Daibes’ driver, the indictment alleges. One, the complaint claims, even bore Daibes' return address.
Investigators discovered other envelopes inside jackets hanging in one of Menendez’s closets, one of which bore the senator’s name and the logo of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
In the same search of the Menendez home, agents also found home furnishings allegedly paid for by Daibes and Edgewater, New Jersey, businessman Wael Hana, the Mercedes, which prosecutors say was gifted to the politician by businessman Jose Uribe, and gold bars worth more than $100,000, according to the indictment.
In a Friday morning press conference in Lower Manhattan, Damian Williams, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, contrasted Menendez’s alleged efforts on behalf of his fellow defendants with the disclaimers the senator advertises on his official website.
“It says he cannot compel an agency to act in someone’s favor. It says he cannot influence matters involving a private business. It says he cannot get involved in criminal matters, or cases, period,” Williams told reporters. “But we allege that behind the scenes, Sen. Menendez was doing those things for certain people: the people who were bribing him and his wife.”
Beyond the garish gifts agents say they turned up at the Menendez residence, perhaps Williams’ most striking accusation is that Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, “provided sensitive, non-public U.S. government information to Egyptian officials, and otherwise took steps to secretly aid the government of Egypt.”
“At all times relevant to this Indictment, Menendez held a leadership position on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (the “SFRC”), first as the Ranking Member and then the Chairman, and therefore possessed influence over, among other things, the Executive Branch’s decisions to provide foreign military sales, foreign military financing, and other aid or support to or for the benefit of the Government of Egypt,” the indictment states.
Menendez met his wife, Nadine Arslanian, in Feb. 2018 and married her in Oct. 2020, according to the indictment. When she began dating Menendez, Arslanian told Hana about her new beau, after which the two “worked to introduce Egyptian intelligence and military officials to Menendez,” who then allegedly sold out his office for financial gain.
“Before Nadine Menendez began dating Menendez, she was unemployed,” the indictment states.
Arslanian, who is also under indictment, and Hana were friends “for many years before she started dating Menendez,” according to prosecutors. Among other things, Menendez “improperly advised and pressured an official at the United States Department of Agriculture for the purpose of protecting a business monopoly granted to Hana” in which his company was responsible for certifying halal meat being exported from the states to Egypt.
Prior, “a number of other U.S. companies had been licensed to certify U.S. meat exports to Egypt for halal compliance for years,” the indictment says.
Menendez is further charged with corruptly using “his influence and breach his official duty to seek to disrupt a criminal investigation and prosecution undertaken by the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office related to” Uribe, his co-defendant.
The feds also allege Menendez “promised to and did use his influence and power and breach his official duty” to recommend—and get nominated—Philip Sellinger for the top federal prosecutor job in New Jersey, because he believed Sellinger “could be influenced... with respect to the federal criminal prosecution of” Daibes.
(Sellinger, who continues to serve in the position, was never accused of any wrongdoing. Daibes pleaded guilty last year to financial fraud and is awaiting sentencing.)
Williams lauded his other fellow civil servants for refusing to join in Menendez’s alleged corrupt actions.
“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,” Williams said. “Fortunately, the public officials the senator sought to influence did not bend to the pressure. That’s a good thing.”
The Daily Beast was the first to report Daibes’ entanglement in the halal company and the investigation into the senator, as well as a trip Menendez and his wife took to Egypt in 2021. Both now form part of the government’s case.
In a statement to the press, Menendez sounded defiant, and recalled how he escaped the Department of Justice's clutches in 2017 thanks to a mistrial in a separate bribery matter. He also deplored what he described as the “excesses of these prosecutors.”
What he did not do is address the provenance of the alleged DNA- and fingerprint-laden envelopes of cash, the gold bars, and the luxury vehicle found at his home.
“For years, forces behind the scenes have repeatedly attempted to silence my voice and dig my political grave,” Menendez said. “Those behind this campaign simply cannot accept that a first-generation Latino American from humble beginnings could rise to be a U.S. Senator and serve with honor and distinction. Even worse, they see me as an obstacle in the way of their broader political goals.”
All the interactions documented in the complaint, the senator asserted, were “misrepresented” and part of “the normal work of a congressional office.”
The senator, who is up for re-election next year, ended with a plea to supporters.
“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,” the statement continues.
An attorney for Daibes told The Daily Beast he was “confident that Mr. Daibes will be completely exonerated of all charges.” A lawyer for Hana told The Daily Beast the charges have “no merit,” and that their client would return to the U.S. from Egypt to appear in court this coming Wednesday.
The Daily Beast made multiple efforts to reach Uribe. An individual who answered at one phone number associated with him hung up when this reporter identified himself. When The Daily Beast rang a second time, the individual refused to say anything other than “stop calling.”