United States Senator Bob Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey, was indicted on federal bribery charges on Friday, September 22. Menendez and his wife, Nadine, are accused of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of bribes and payments in exchange for Menendez to use his position of power to enrich the businessmen that were bribing them.
Menendez, who has served New Jersey in the U.S. Senate since 2006, allegedly used his power as a United States Senator to enrich three New Jersey businessmen who were bribing him, and to enrich the Egyptian government. The unsealed indictment alleges the Menendez’s accepted bribes in the form of cash, gold bars, luxury furniture, mortgage payments made on their behalf, a luxury vehicle, and other valuables. The document also alleges Menendez shared sensitive U.S. intelligence with the Egyptian government, who was doing business with the defendants.
Prosecutors revealed they executed a search warrant at the Menendez home in June of 2022 and discovered at least $550,000 cash hidden in envelopes, clothing, closets, and safes, along with a Merecedes convertible purchased by one of the businessmen, and more than $100,000 worth of gold bars. A search of their electronics found Mrs. Menendez had deleted text messages with the businessmen.
On Senator Menendez’s phone, a search for, “how much is one kilo of gold worth” was discovered.
One example given of the bribery in exchange for political action was a phone call Menendez made to top officials at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to stop opposing a certain regulation on an Egyptian meat. Menendez supposedly advocated for this policy to be reversed, even though it would be “detrimental” to American interests. One of the businessmen would’ve benefited from the removal of that blockade.
Menendez also used his position to interfere in both state and federal investigations. Menendez allegedly called New Jersey prosecutors to tell them to stop prosecuting an individual that was one of the businessman’s allies. In exchange for this action, the defendants were gifted a 2019 Mercedes-Benz convertible. Menendez is also accused of disrupting a federal criminal prosecution in exchange for luxury furniture, cash, and gold bars.
These payments were not given to the Menendez’s directly, as that would be easy to trace. Mrs. Menendez founded a fraudulent company that accepted the payments to write it off as income from business. The Menendez’s would then be able to access funds from the business for their personal use.
Prosecutors charged Menendez and his wife with three counts; conspiracy to commit bribery, conspiracy to commit honest services fraud, and conspiracy to commit extortion under color of official right. All three businessmen accused of bribing the senator, were charged with only the first two of those counts. As part of the indictment, the Menendez’s must surrender their home in Englewood Cliffs, the 2019 Mercedes-Benz convertible, at least $566,000 in cash, at least 13 gold bars, and all funds in their fraudulent business front to the United States government.
The indictment was big news to New Jersey politics, with Senator Cory Booker, Governor Phil Murphy, Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, Chair of the New Jersey Democratic Party LeRoy Jones, and U.S. Representatives Mikie Sherrill and Andy Kim, both of New Jersey, all calling for Menendez’s resignation. Politico reported that the state Democratic Party is discussing removing Menendez from the party line on next year’s ballot. Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, appointed by President Obama, also called for the senator’s resignation.
Menendez released a statement saying he is being falsely accused and that he plans on fighting the charges in court. Oddly enough, he’s been in this position before. In 2015, Menendez was indicted on other bribery and corruption charges but the jury in his trial couldn’t get to a consensus, resulting in a mistrial. In 2018, a federal judge acquitted him of all charges and the Department of Justice dropped all charges against him. When the mistrial was announced in 2017, Menendez told the press, “To those who were digging my political grave so that they could jump into my seat, I know who you are, and I won’t forget you”.
In 1986, Menendez was elected mayor of Union City before being elected to the State Assembly in 1988. In 1991, he was elected to the New Jersey State Senate and a year later was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives where he stayed for twelve years. In 2006, he was appointed to the U.S. Senate by then Governor Jon Corzine. He was then re-elected in 2012 and 2018. In 2018, the year after his mistrial, he won with 54% of the vote. Though he hasn’t officially declared his candidacy, he has expressed interest in running for re-election next year.
Though Menendez has said he’s not resigning, rules of the Senate Democratic Caucus, rules all Democratic Senators must follow, state that Menendez must step down as the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, but may remain on as a general member. Menendez is due in a Manhattan court on Wednesday, September 27.