Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., and his wife have been charged with bribery over their alleged acceptance of “hundreds of thousands of dollars” in return for the use of the senator's influence to enrich three New Jersey businessmen and benefit the Egyptian government, according to an indictment filed in Manhattan federal court that was made public Friday.
The charges include conspiracy to commit bribery, conspiracy to commit honest services fraud and conspiracy to commit extortion under color of official right. The bribes the couple received included “cash, gold bars, payments toward a home mortgage, compensation for a low-or-no-show job, a luxury vehicle and other items of value,” the indictment alleges.
Federal agents said they discovered many of the items when they executed search warrants in the couple’s home in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, in June 2022. They found more than $480,000 in cash, “much of it stuffed into envelopes and hidden in clothing, closets, and a safe,” including jackets bearing the senator’s name that were hanging in his closet, as well as more than $70,000 in Nadine Menendez’s safe deposit box, the indictment alleges.
Agents also allegedly discovered a Mercedes-Benz convertible worth more than $60,000 that New Jersey businessmen Wael Hana and Jose Uribe gave to Menendez's wife in exchange for the senator’s interference in a state prosecution of Uribe’s associate and investigation into an employee whom Uribe referred to as a relative. Federal agents also found gold bars worth hundreds of thousands of dollars in the senator's home that were provided by Hana and another businessman, Fred Daibes. All three businessmen were also charged in the indictment.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer confirmed in a statement on Friday afternoon that Menendez "has rightly decided to step down temporarily" as chair of the Foreign Relations Committee until the matter is resolved. A source close to Menendez had told NBC News earlier in the day that he would step down from his position on the panel while the case proceeds.
He dismissed the allegations against him in a statement, saying prosecutors have “misrepresented the normal work of a Congressional office.”
“I remain focused on continuing this important work and will not be distracted by baseless allegations,” he said.
The senator is already facing resignation calls, from fellow Democrats. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy and some congressional Democrats, including some from Menendez's home state, said Friday that he should resign.
Menendez rebuffed those calls Friday night, saying in a statement that some people were “rushing to judge a Latino and push him out of his seat."
"I am not going anywhere,” he said.
Nadine Menendez’s lawyer, David Schertler, said in a statement that she “denies any wrongdoing and will defend vigorously against these allegations in court.”
The senator and his co-defendants are expected to appear in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, in lower Manhattan, at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, and will be arraigned later that day.
The U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, Damian Williams, announced the charges at a news conference Friday. Williams noted that Menendez's Senate website says he can't compel an agency to act in someone's favor, influence matters involving a private business or get involved in criminal matters. "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," he said.
The investigation in the case is ongoing, Williams said, asking that anyone with knowledge of the matter call the FBI's tip line.
Among the allegations in the indictment is that Menendez "provided sensitive U.S. Government information and took other steps that secretly aided the Government of Egypt." It also says the senator pressured an official at the U.S. Agriculture Department for the purpose of protecting a business monopoly granted by Egypt to Hana, who is an Egyptian American.
According to the indictment, Hana and Nadine Menendez "were friends for many years" before she started dating the senator. In early 2018, she informed Hana that she was dating Menendez and "in the following months and years," they worked to introduce Egyptian intelligence and military officials to the senator "for the purpose of establishing and solidifying a corrupt agreement" in which Hana, with assistance from the two other businessmen, "provided hundreds of thousands of dollars of bribes" to the senator and his wife "in exchange for Menendez's acts and breaches of duty to benefit the Government of Egypt, Hana, and others, including with respect to foreign military sales and foreign military financing," the filing alleges.
Around March 2018, Menendez met with Egyptian military officials "at a meeting arranged and attended by his then-girlfriend Nadine Menendez and her friend Hana" at the senator's office in Washington, D.C., the indictment says. The meeting did not involve professional staff from his Senate office or the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
In May 2018, the indictment alleges, the senator sought "non-public information regarding the number and nationality of persons serving at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, Egypt" from the State Department, which was considered "highly sensitive" because it could "pose significant operational security concerns if disclosed to a foreign government or if made public." Without informing any of his staff on Capitol Hill or the State Department, he texted that information to his then-girlfriend, Nadine. She forwarded it to Hana, who then forwarded it to an Egyptian government official, the filing alleges.
That same month, the indictment alleges that Nadine conveyed a request from an Egyptian official to Menendez seeking assistance in editing and drafting a letter lobbying other U.S. senators to support U.S. aid to Egypt.
Prosecutors say Menendez "secretly edited and ghost-wrote the request letter on behalf of Egypt seeking to convince other U.S. Senators to release a hold on $300 million in aid to Egypt." He sent this ghost-written letter to her from his personal account and then she forwarded it to Hana, who then relayed the draft to Egyptian officials. The indictment says that the couple deleted the email in which Nadine asked Menendez to write the letter.
In March 2020, Nadine Menendez texted an Egyptian official that "anytime you need anything you have my number and we will make everything happen," the indictment says. A few days later, she arranged for Sen. Menendez to meet with that official, whom she referred to as "the general" to discuss negotiations over a dam on the Nile River in the region of Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt. Eventually, the senator reached out to the secretaries of Treasury and State in a letter saying he was writing "to express my concern about the stalled negotiations."
The indictment also alleges Menendez “promised to and did use his influence and power and breach his official duty to recommend that the President nominate an individual for U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey who Menendez believed" he could influence regarding the federal prosecution of New Jersey developer Daibes.
A spokesperson for Hana said they are reviewing the charges, but "based upon our initial review, they have absolutely no merit." Daibes' lawyer said in a statement, "Based upon our review, we are confident that Mr. Daibes will be completely exonerated of all charges."
If convicted, Menendez and his wife will have to forfeit "to the U.S. any and all property, real and personal, that constitutes or is derived from proceeds traceable to the commission of said offenses," the indictment says, although forfeitures would need to be approved from a judge. That would include their home in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey; the Mercedes-Benz convertible, more than $486,000 seized from the home, almost $80,000 seized from a safe deposit box, and several gold bars taken from their home.
The indictment comes after a yearlong corruption probe led by Williams' office. Menendez has previously denied any wrongdoing, saying in May, "I am sure it is going to end up in absolutely nothing."
The indictment is the second the senator has faced since he was elected to the Senate in 2006. He was charged in 2015 with illegally accepting favors from a Florida eye doctor, including flights on a private jet, three nights at a five-star hotel in Paris and more than $700,000 in political contributions for him and the Democratic Party.
The case ended in a mistrial after jurors were unable to reach a unanimous verdict. Federal prosecutors decided not to retry him.
Menendez appears to be the first sitting senator in U.S. history to be indicted on two unrelated criminal allegations, according to data compiled by the Senate Historical Office. The senator, who was elected to a third term with 54% of the vote, is up for re-election next year.