U.S. Sen. Menendez of New Jersey indicted for bribery as probe finds $100,000 in gold bars
NEW YORK (AP) — U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey and his wife were indicted Friday on charges that they took bribes of cash, gold bars and a luxury car for a range of corrupt acts, including having the Democrat use his influence over foreign affairs to benefit the authoritarian government of Egypt.
A search of the couple’s home turned up $100,000 in gold bars and $480,000 in hidden cash, said prosecutors, who announced the charges against the 69-year-old Democrat nearly six years after an earlier criminal case against him ended with a deadlocked jury.
The latest indictment is unrelated to the earlier charges that alleged Menendez accepted lavish gifts to pressure government officials on behalf of a Florida doctor.
Messages were left for Menendez’s Senate spokesperson and his political consultant. David Schertler, a lawyer for Menendez’s wife, said she “denies any criminal conduct and will vigorously contest these charges in court.”
The Senate Historical Office says Menendez appears to be the first sitting senator in U.S. history to have been indicted on two unrelated criminal allegations. Menendez faces reelection next year in a bid to extend his three-decade career in Washington as Democrats hold a narrow majority in the Senate.
The indictment alleges that Menendez provided sensitive U.S. government information and took other steps to secretly help Egypt, including ghost-writing a letter on behalf of Egypt pushing other senators to lift a hold on $300 million in aid to the country.
In April 2020, shortly after meeting with an Egyptian official, authorities allege, Menendez also lobbied then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to increase American engagement in stalled negotiations involving Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan to build a dam over the Nile River, a key foreign policy issue for Egypt.
Prosecutors allege Menendez and his wife accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes from three business associates, Wael Hana, Jose Uribe and Fred Daibes. He also used his influence to pressure the president to nominate a U.S. attorney for New Jersey who would protect Daibes, a longtime friend and prominent New Jersey developer who faced criminal prosecution, they said.
After Menendez called a government official about Daibes’ case, according to the indictment, his wife was given a Mercedes-Benz convertible by Uribe and Hana, both friends of the senator and his wife. The indictment says that after the purchase was complete, Nadine Menendez texted her husband to say: “Congratulations mon amour de la vie, we are the proud owners of a 2019 Mercedes,” with a heart emoji.
Requests for comment with lawyers for Daibes, Hana and Uribe were not immediately returned.
Now that he is indicted, Menendez will have to step down as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Rules for the Senate Democratic caucus say that any member who is charged with a felony must step aside from a leadership position.
Menendez had to step down from his position as the top Democrat on the panel when he was indicted in 2015. He resumed the post in 2018 when he was cleared of the charges.
The first time Menendez was indicted, he had been accused of using his political influence to help a Florida eye doctor who had lavished him with gifts and campaign contributions.
The new charges follow a yearslong investigation that examined, among other things, the dealings of a New Jersey businessman — a friend of Menendez’s wife — who secured sole authorization from the Egyptian government to certify that meat imported into that country meets Islamic dietary requirements. Investigators also asked questions about the Menendez family’s interactions with a New Jersey developer.
Menendez’s political career had looked as though it might be over in 2015, when a federal grand jury in New Jersey indicted him on multiple charges over favors he did for a friend, Dr. Salomon Melgen.
Menendez was accused of pressuring government officials to resolve a Medicare billing dispute in Melgen’s favor, securing visas for the doctor’s girlfriends and helping protect a contract the doctor had to provide port-screening equipment to the Dominican Republic.
Menendez has always maintained his innocence. His lawyers said campaign contributions and gifts from Melgen — which included trips on his private jet to a resort in the Dominican Republic and a vacation in Paris — were tokens of their longtime friendship, not bribes.
Prosecutors dropped the case after a jury deadlocked in November 2017 on charges including bribery, fraud and conspiracy, and a judge dismissed some counts.
The Senate Ethics Committee later rebuked Menendez, finding that he had improperly accepted gifts, failed to disclose them and then used his influence to advance Melgen’s personal interests.
But months later, New Jersey voters returned Menendez to the Senate. He defeated a well-financed challenger in a midterm election that broke a Republican lock on power in Washington.
Melgen was convicted of health care fraud in 2017, but President Donald Trump commuted his prison sentence.
The son of Cuban immigrants, Menendez has held public office continuously since 1986, when he was elected mayor of Union City, New Jersey. He was a state legislator and spent 14 years in the U.S. House of Representatives. In 2006, Gov. Jon Corzine appointed Menendez to the Senate seat he vacated when he became governor.
Menendez first publicly disclosed that he was the subject of a new federal investigation last October. Prosecutors declined at the time to comment, but some details of their investigation emerged in news reports and court records.
In 2019, federal agents seized electronic devices and records from the offices of IS EG Halal, a New Jersey company that had been named by the Egyptian government as the sole company to certify that imported meat met religious requirements.
The designation surprised U.S. agriculture officials. Previously, several other companies had been doing that certification, but they were dismissed by Egyptian agriculture officials in favor of IS EG Halal, which had no previous experience in the field.
The switch happened the same year that Menendez became engaged to Nadine Arslanian, an acquaintance of the new halal certification company’s owner, Hana, of Edgewater, New Jersey.
Records show Arslanian, 56, was battling foreclosure on her Bergen County property in 2018. When she and Menendez got engaged it began a period of financial turnaround for Arslanian, a former marketer for a medical company.
Within weeks of their engagement, she incorporated a business, Strategic International Business Consultants LLC, according to state records. Her foreclosure case was dismissed soon after. The following year, her assets included gold bars valued between $100,000 to $250,000, according to a Senate disclosure form amended by Menendez in March of 2022.
Between April and June of 2022, the couple cashed out at least part of their precious metal holdings, forms show, selling between $200,000 and $400,000 worth of gold bars, while keeping at least $250,000 worth of them.
An attorney for Arslanian, David Schertler, did not respond to a request for comment about his client’s international business work or how she acquired the gold bars.
After news reports last May that federal prosecutors were examining whether Menendez or his wife had received unreported gifts from the business, Hana’s spokesperson denied that any U.S. official had assisted the company.
U.S. investigators also issued at least one subpoena last spring seeking correspondence from Menendez, his wife, or an Edgewater developer, Daibes, whose company owns the building where IS EG Halal has offices. The subpoena, which was sent to state Sen. Nicholas Sacco, referenced a state bill that would have limited development in certain areas along the Hudson River, including where Daibes owns property.