New Jersey Democratic Senator and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was charged on Friday with accepting expensive, luxurious bribes in exchange for political favors.
The 39-page federal indictment charged the senator, his wife Nadine Menendez, businessman Wael Hana, and two others with conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud.
Menendez and his wife have also been charged with conspiracy to commit extortion under the color of official right, using official position to force an individual to give them items of value in return for services.
During secret dinners, text messages, and encrypted phone calls, there had been talk of increasing U.S. assistance to Egypt and aiding businessmen in New Jersey, according to the indictment.
The businessmen mentioned in the indictment are Hana, a friend of Ms. Menedez who founded a halal meat certification business, Fred Daibes, a New Jersey real estate developer and fund-raiser for Menendez, and Jose Uribe, who works in trucking and insurance, according to the New York Times.
This is not Menendez’s first time in the hot seat facing indictment. In 2015 he was indicted on bribery charges in New Jersey which involved gifts worth up to $1 million including luxurious vacations and campaign contributions from a New Jersey eye surgeon. The jury was not able to come to a verdict and the case ended in a mistrial in 2017.
The surgeon was later sentenced to prison time for Medicare fraud.
After being let off the hook, Menendez prepared for re-election, and started dating Ms. Menendez, who is now his wife, in 2018.
Ms. Menendez introduced the senator to Hana who has connections with Egyptian military and intelligence officials and was the middle man in most of their communications.
The indictment stated that the couple accepted cash, gold, payments toward their mortgage, a Mercedes-Benz convertible in exchange for disclosing highly sensitive information about the number and nationality of people in the U.S. Embassy and non-public information about the U.S. Military that could be a threat to security.
Ms. Menendez bragged that her actions would make Hana “more powerful than the president of Egypt.”, according to the New York Times.
“Behind the scenes, Senator Menendez was doing those things for certain people — the people who were bribing him and his wife.” stated Damian Williams, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York at a news conference.
The indictment has put Menendez’s seat in the Senate at stake and has been called to resign by Governor Phil Murphy and Senator Cory Booker, both of New Jersey. Menendez and Booker have been allies since Booker’s first months in office in 2013.
In a statement on Friday evening Menendez said, “I’m not going anywhere,” and is maintaining his innocence, pleading not guilty to the charges against him.
Menendez sent a letter to Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer of New York, stating he has stepped down as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. This is required by the rules of the Senate Democrats adopted to govern themselves, according to the New York Times.
According to Nicholas Baise, spokesperson of the Southern District of New York, Menendez, his wife, as well as their three co-defendants are expected to appear in Manhattan federal court this week.
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