Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) spent years after his unrelated last prosecution brazenly taking hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes while doling out favors to a foreign government and criminal defendants in exchange, Manhattan federal prosecutors alleged in a Friday indictment.
Menendez and his wife Nadine allegedly acted as a bribery power-couple, prosecutors said, receiving a Mercedez-Benz, gold bars, cash envelopes stuffed in a Menendez-embroidered jacket, and a no-show job at a halal meat company.
In exchange, Menendez allegedly used his office to benefit the government of Egypt as it sought to receive American weapons amid troubling allegations of human rights violations, and to pressure state and federal prosecutors in New Jersey to go easy on the senator’s associates.
Menendez issued a statement on Friday which takes themes currently in fashion among politicians under indictment, suggesting that the case was politically motivated and brought by “forces behind the scenes.”
“They see me as an obstacle in the way of their broader political goals,” he said.
Per the indictment, Menendez faces one count of conspiracy to commit bribery, one count of conspiracy to commit honest services fraud, and one count of conspiracy to commit extortion. His wife faces the same charges. Three New Jersey businessmen, Wael Hana, Fred Daibes, and Jose Uribe, face charges in the same indictment of conspiracy to commit bribery and conspiracy to commit honest services fraud.
It’s the second time around for Menendez on federal corruption charges. New Jersey federal prosecutors charged Menendez with corruption violations in 2015, though that case ended in a mistrial.
Federal prosecutors allege that Menendez and his wife, Nadine, engaged in a murky and “corrupt relationship” with three New Jersey businessmen.
The three men asked for various things but, prosecutors say, they all had one thing in common: they allegedly bribed Menendez so that he would take official acts for their benefit.
In the case of Wael Hana, an Egypt-born New Jersey businessman who was purportedly friends with Nadine Menendez before she began dating the senator in 2018, that largely had to do with the government of Egypt.
It’s Hana who allegedly served as a middleman between Menendez and Egyptian officials, and who purportedly got his own piece of the pie via a lucrative stake in the international meat business.
Hana, with Nadine’s help, allegedly arranged a series of meetings in 2018 with the senator and Egyptian officials. There, Menendez allegedy supplied sensitive information, including the staff makeup of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and when the U.S. government was ready to start selling small arms to Egypt, to the officials via Nadine. Menendez also allegedly ghost-wrote a letter to other senators for an Egyptian official asking for a release on $300 million in aid.
In exchange for his allegedly non-kosher deal, Hana was to bring the meat via his New Jersey-based halal goods import business.
Prosecutors say that Hana initially promised Nadine payment for the above favors via a no-show job at his halal import company. But after Hana allegedly failed to come through with the halal-routed payments to Nadine amid a cash crunch at the company, prosecutors say, the deal with the Menendezes was in jeopardy.
It was in then, in early 2019, that the government of Egypt granted Hana’s company what prosecutors describe as a “lucrative monopoly” on the export of halal food to the U.S. The day after that took place, prosecutors said, Nadine texted the senator: “Seems like halal went through. It might be a fantastic 2019 all the way around.”
The monopoly deal allegedly benefitted Nadine, who began to receive payments via the no-show job. But, the indictment reads, the Egypt monopoly was significant enough to cause a spike in costs for U.S. meat suppliers, and to stoke consternation at the USDA, which purportedly contacted Cairo about the monopoly grant and moved to prepare a report on the “disruption” that the monopoly was causing to American meat prices.
In May 2019, after what prosecutors note was a dinner at a D.C. steakhouse with Hana and an unnamed Egyptian intelligence official, Menendez allegedly asked a high-level USDA official to stop opposing Hana’s halal meat monopoly.
Prosecutors say that the basic relationship between the Menendezes, Hana, and Egyptian officials continued through 2021: Hana would pay in various forms which included gold bars, and the senator would act in various ways to benefit Cairo.
But during that time, two other New Jersey businessmen purportedly entered the picture: a real estate developer and Menendez fundraiser named Fred Daibes, and Jose Uribe, a former insurance broker.
The allegations here are comically corrupt, with prosecutors titling one section:
“MENENDEZ Agrees to Disrupt New Jersey State Criminal Matters in Exchange for a Mercedes-Benz Convertible.”
The car purportedly cost $60,000, and in exchange, Menendez purportedly tried to block the state prosecution of an associate of Uribe’s on insurance fraud charges. Uribe, prosecutors say, was involved in the scheme.
Around that time, in December 2018, Nadine Menendez was left car-less after an accident. She needed a car, and Uribe needed the state criminal investigation to end.
So, prosecutors say, the senator called a New Jersey law enforcement official asking “through advice and pressure” to resolve the case in the “defendant’s favor.” That attempt failed, but Nadine, who had texted the senator about the case after speaking with Uribe’s friend Wael Hana, got the car.
After Uribe allegedly helped facilitate the purchase, he texted Nadine: “are you happy?” To which she replied, “I will never forget this.”
The senator allegedly kept trying to block the New Jersey state investigation. Uribe kept texting Nadine that he needed “peace,” prosecutors say, while Menendez himself met both with Uribe and, separately, with the same New Jersey law enforcement official in an effort to resolve the case.
It’s not clear if Menendez’s efforts succeeded at the state level, though the group allegedly had a “celebratory dinner” together where they “toasted with a bottle of champagne.” Uribe allegedly continued to send payments for the Mercedes-Benz until federal agents approached him and the Menendezes in 2022.
Kilos of gold
Some of the most stunning allegations in the indictment concern the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey.
That was the office which, in cooperation with the DOJ’s public integrity section, brought the 2015 case against Menendez. That prosecution ended in a mistrial, and the DOJ under President Trump declined to retry the case in 2018.
Biden’s election in 2020 meant that there would be a new top federal prosecutor in Menendez’s home state. And, prosecutors say in the indictment, Menendez took notice, trying to wield his influence to install someone malleable. In particular, Menendez wanted to put an end to the prosecution of Fred Daibes, a real estate developer who palled around with Wael Hana and who raised funds for Mendendez’s campaign.
Daibes had been facing federal conspiracy charges first filed in 2018.
Daibes allegedly bribed Menendez and his wife with gold bars, envelopes of cash, and a recliner for Menendez himself so that the senator would try to call off the prosecution.
In December 2020, prosecutors say, Menendez met with one option for U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey, who was later nominated and confirmed. Menendez brought up the Daibes case during the meeting, and purportedly said he hoped the prospective nominee would “look into” the matter.
Afterwards, the prospective nominee purportedly told Menendez that he would likely have to recuse from the Daibes case, if confirmed, due to a case he had worked on which involved Daibes while in private practice. Menendez allegedly replied that he would not recommend the prospective nominee’s appointment to the White House, and would go with someone else.
Menendez instead recommended someone who, prosecutors say, Daibes believed would be “sympathetic,” but the White House went with the initial prospective nominee.
Throughout, prosecutors said, Daibes was feeding gold bars and other benefits to the Menendezes. At one point, Menendez himself allegedly searched “how much is one kilo of gold worth” online, while Nadine sold two of the gold bars to a jeweler.
An unnamed “advisor” persuaded Menendez that the initial nominee might not have to recuse from the Daibes case, and Menendez then recommended his nomination to the White House.
But after that, prosecutors write, DOJ officials “recused” the New Jersey federal prosecutor from the case. Menendez purportedly told the unnamed “advisor” to ask him why that had hapened, and spoke directly with the prosecutor’s deputy, who had assumed responsibility for the case.
Prosecutors write that Menendez’s contacts never made it to the prosecution team itself. Daibes pleaded guilty last year.
Read the indictment here: