New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez’s corruption trial begins. Here’s what to know.

May 13, 2024
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Washington — For the second time in his career, New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez is heading to trial on corruption charges. This time, he’s fighting allegations that he traded his political influence for cash, gold bars and a new Mercedes-Benz convertible. 

The allegations date back to 2018, around the time the Democratic senator began dating the woman who is now his wife, Nadine Menendez, who was also indicted in the corruption probe. Prosecutors say Menendez provided political favors to three New Jersey businessmen and secretly helped the governments of Egypt and Qatar. 

Menendez, who stepped down from his powerful chairmanship of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee after he was charged, has pleaded not guilty and hasn’t ruled out testifying

Recent court filings revealed Menendez’s potential defense strategies, including incriminating his wife and asserting that stockpiling cash was a “coping mechanism” after “two significant traumatic events” in his life. 

Menendez will be on trial with two New Jersey businessmen, who have also pleaded not guilty. 

Here’s what to know. 

What are Menendez and his wife charged with? 

Menendez and his wife were initially charged with three criminal counts in September 2023 — conspiracy to commit bribery, conspiracy to commit honest services fraud and conspiracy to commit extortion under color of official right. 

The initial indictment detailed a years-long corruption scheme in which Menendez allegedly used his influence as the then-chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee to secretly benefit Egypt; pressured a U.S. Department of Agriculture official to protect a business monopoly Egypt granted to a New Jersey businessman, Wael Hana; to interfere in a criminal investigation and prosecution by the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office related to a second New Jersey businessman, Jose Uribe, and his associates; and attempted to influence a federal prosecution of a third New Jersey businessman, Fred Daibes. 

A superseding indictment in October 2023 added a fourth charge alleging the couple conspired to act as a foreign agent for Egypt. Prosecutors say Menendez and his wife provided Egyptian officials, via Hana, with “highly sensitive” and nonpublic information about the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and U.S. military aid to Egypt. The senator also allegedly ghostwrote a letter on behalf of Egypt that sought to convince his Senate colleagues to release a hold on $300 million in aid to Egypt. 

“Any you need anything you have my number and we will make everything happen,” Nadine Menendez allegedly texted an Egyptian intelligence official in March 2020, days before arranging one of several meetings between her husband and the official. 

In January, a second superseding indictment included allegations that Menendez made favorable comments about the Qatari government as Daibes was seeking a multimillion-dollar investment from a company with ties to the government.

Menendez was indicted on a dozen new criminal charges in March in a third superseding indictment, bringing the total charges to 16. The additional charges include obstruction of justice, public official acting as a foreign agent, bribery, extortion and honest services wire fraud. Nadine Menendez, whose trial was separated from her husband’s due to a “serious medical condition,” faces 15 charges. She has also pleaded not guilty. 

Prosecutors allege that in exchange for the senator’s use of his power and influence to enrich the businessmen, they provided the Menendezes with lavish gifts, including cash, gold bars, a Mercedes-Benz convertible, furniture and payments for a home mortgage as Nadine Menendez was facing foreclosure on her home. 

When investigators executed a search warrant at the couple’s home in June 2022, they found over $480,000 in cash stuffed in envelopes and coats and 13 gold bars worth more than $100,000. They discovered nearly $80,000 in a safe deposit box at a nearby bank. 

After the initial indictment, Menendez said that for 30 years he withdrew thousands of dollars each month from his personal savings account in case of emergencies. The “old-fashioned” habit, he said, had roots in his family’s experience in Cuba.

Who are the other defendants? 

Hana knew Nadine Menendez years before she started dating the senator. Originally from Egypt, Hana lived in New Jersey and operated IS EG Halal, a start-up that soon became the sole company to certify halal products imported to Egypt, despite Hana having no previous experience in the halal industry. 

Hana and Nadine Menendez were often the intermediaries between the senator and Egyptian officials, arranging dinners at expensive restaurants and meetings in his Senate office, according to court documents. Prosecutors say Hana put Nadine Menendez on the payroll of his company “in a low-or-no-show job” after the senator promised to use his power to facilitate foreign military sales to Egypt. 

When a crash left Nadine Menendez without a car in December 2018, she turned to Hana, who connected her with Uribe, his business associate who had been implicated in an insurance fraud case. The next month, the couple and the two businessmen agreed that Menendez would intervene in the insurance fraud case, the indictments say. In return, the charges allege, Uribe helped buy Nadine Menendez a black Mercedes-Benz convertible, meeting her in a restaurant parking lot to hand over $15,000 in cash that she used for the down payment, and later arranging car payments. 

Around the same time, Egypt granted a monopoly to Hana’s firm in a deal that provided a “revenue stream” for Hana to pay the Menendezes, the indictments say. But the monopoly also increased costs for other U.S. meat suppliers and after U.S. officials raised objections with Egypt, Hana requested the senator’s help to pressure the Department of Agriculture to back off. 

By summer 2019, prosecutors say Nadine Menendez, who was tens of thousands of dollars behind on her mortgage and facing foreclosure, sought help again from Hana and Uribe. Hana’s company, they say, paid $23,000 to bring the mortgage payments up to date while Menendez sought to pressure New Jersey officials to end the fraud investigation linked to Uribe. 

It wasn’t the first case that Menendez interfered with, according to the indictments. In late 2020, the senator met with a person who would later be nominated to be the U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey, criticizing the office’s prosecution of Daibes, a New Jersey real estate developer and associate of Hana’s. Daibes was charged in 2018 with obtaining loans under false pretenses. But when the person suggested that he may have to recuse himself from the prosecution, Menendez informed him that he would recommend someone else to the White House for the U.S. attorney nomination, prosecutors alleged. 

Through 2021 and 2022, after Menendez publicly praised the government of Qatar, which prosecutors suggested helped Daibes land a deal with a Qatari investor, and as the senator sought to continue to interfere in the federal prosecution of Daibes, the real estate developer allegedly gave Menendez gold bars, cash and a recliner. 

“One kilo price of gold,” Menendez allegedly searched online, hours after having dinner with his wife and Daibes in May 2022. 

Less than a month later, federal agents executed search warrants at the Menendezes’ home and safe deposit box. 

According to prosecutors, Uribe stopped making payments on Nadine Menendez’s Mercedes after that and told her that he would say the payments were a loan if investigators asked. Menendez and his wife then allegedly sought to cover up the mortgage and car payments by writing checks to Hana and Uribe that were characterized as payments for loans, prosecutors said. That caused lawyers for Menendez and his wife to make “false and misleading statements” to investigators in 2023, the indictment said. 

Uribe pleaded guilty to seven charges, including conspiracy to commit bribery, honest services wire fraud, obstruction of justice and tax evasion, and agreed to cooperate with investigators earlier this year. 

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