NJ Senator Robert Menendez and his wife plead not guilty to federal bribery charges | Courthouse News Service
Saturday, December 2, 2023
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NJ Senator Robert Menendez and his wife plead not guilty to federal bribery charges

The Democratic New Jersey senator pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to criminal charges that he accepted bribes from Egyptian businessmen in exchange for exerting political influence.

MANHATTAN (CN) — New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez pleaded not guilty before a federal magistrate judge on Wednesday morning to bribery and corruption charges.

He voluntarily surrendered to law enforcement hours earlier after a summons.

Menendez, 69, was released on a $100,000 personal recognizance bond, after pleading not guilty to the three-count indictment before U.S Magistrate Judge Ona Wang.

His plea was entered by attorney Seth Farber, a former Southern District of New York prosecutor with Winston & Strawn LLP.

According to the terms of his bail package, Menendez will surrender his personal passport but will retain his official passports, and any foreign travel will be limited to official business only.

The Democratic senator wore a dark suit with thin gray pinstripes to his presentment on Wednesday morning.

On Friday, Menendez and his wife, Nadine, were both charged by New York federal prosecutors with accepting bribes in exchange for using his position to increase U.S. assistance to Egypt and to do favors for three New Jersey businessmen.

The couple are both charged on all three counts, including  conspiracy to commit bribery, conspiracy to commit honest wire services fraud, and conspiracy to commit extortion under color of official right.

Nadine Menendez, 56, also pleaded not guilty on Wednesday and was released on a $250,000 personal recognizance bond secured by the couple’s home in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey.

According to a federal indictment unsealed on Friday from the Southern District of New York, Menendez accepted bribe payments including “cash, gold, payments toward a home mortgage, compensation for a low-or-no-show job, a luxury vehicle, and other things of value.”

An FBI search of the Menendez’s New Jersey home last year uncovered and led to the seizure of over $100,000 of solid gold bars and about $480,000 in cash.

The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Sidney H. Stein, a Clinton appointee from Passaic, New Jersey.

According to the indictment, Menendez took bribes from Wael Hana, an Egyptian American who ran IS EG Halal Certified, a New Jersey company that was granted an exclusive monopoly in 2019 certifying meat exports to Egypt as compliant with halal meat standards despite the fact that neither Hana nor his company had experience with halal certification.

Prosecutors say once the company was granted the lucrative monopoly, Hana gave Nadine Menendez a “no show job” that paid out tens of thousands dollars to a shell company, Strategic International Business Consultants LLC, which prosecutors say was used to receive bribe payments.

Hana was arrested at John F. Kennedy International Airport on Tuesday and freed on a $5 million bond, secured by $300,000 cash.

The bribery scandal is Menendez’s second set of corruption charges in a decade. The lawmaker in 2015 was indicted in a similar scheme — involving accusations of peddling  political influence to help Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen in exchange for luxury vacations in the Caribbean and Paris, flights on the eye doctor’s private jet and hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions to organizations that supported the senator — but a hung jury ended his trial two years later.

Menendez predicted a repeat acquittal on the 2023 charges.

“Everything I’ve accomplished, I’ve worked for despite the naysayers and everyone who has underestimated me,” he said Monday. “I recognize this will be the biggest fight yet, but as I have stated throughout this whole process, I firmly believe that when all the facts are presented, not only will I be exonerated, but I still will be New Jersey’s senior senator.”

Menendez, the son of Cuban immigrants, defended himself on Monday, claiming that the wads of crisp $100 bills, several of which investigators say they found stuffed in clothing, were merely for personal use.

“For 30 years, I have withdrawn thousands of dollars in cash from my personal savings accounts, which I have kept for emergencies and because of the history of my family facing confiscation in Cuba,” Menendez said. “Now this may seem old-fashioned, but these were monies drawn from my personal savings accounts based on the income that I have lawfully derived over these 30 years.”

However, Menendez didn’t comment on the gold bars, estimated to be worth more than $100,000, that investigators said they found in his home. 

While Menendez quickly stepped down from his position as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee after the indictment was unsealed on Friday he has yet to resign from the legislature, despite calls from a growing number of Senate Democrats for him to exit the Senate seat he has held since 2006.

Fellow New Jersey Democratic Senator Cory Booker called on his colleague on Tuesday to step down.

"The details of the allegations against Senator Menendez are of such a nature that the faith and trust of New Jerseyans as well as those he must work with in order to be effective have been shaken to the core," Booker wrote in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter. "Stepping down is not an admission of guilt but an acknowledgement that holding public office demands tremendous sacrifices at great personal cost."

As of Tuesday afternoon, more than ten Senate Democrats had urged Menendez to resign, among them Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown, Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Pennsylvania Senators Bob Casey and John Fetterman.

“The indictment spells out deeply troubling allegations against Senator Menendez that breach the American people’s trust and compromise his ability to effectively represent his constituents,” Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin said in a statement Tuesday.

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