Sen. Bob Menendez pleads not guilty to charges of bribery and corruption
The charges included accepting bribes of gold bars and cash in consideration for using his political power to further Egyptian interests and do favors for Garden State businessmen
September 27, 2023 12:48pm
Updated: September 27, 2023 12:48pm
U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, a Democrat and senior senator from New Jersey pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to charges filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York (SDNY).
The charges included accepting bribes of gold bars and cash in consideration for using his political power to further Egyptian interests and do favors for Garden State businessmen.
The embattled senator made his first court appearance in Manhattan’s downtown U.S. District Court just days after federal prosecutors revealed an indictment levying charges against the Democrat, who was recently compelled to step down as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The senator’s attorney entered the not guilty plea on his behalf during the hearing.
Menendez has defended his actions, saying the allegations he abused his senatorial power are false. He has said he is certain he will be vindicated, and has refused to resign from the Senate.
The senator’s defiance comes amid several calls from Democratic colleagues for asked for him to resign, including pressure from No. 2 Senate Democrat Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin saying, “he should step down.”
Since then, more than half of Senate Democrats have joined a growing chorus of opposition that are insisting the senior legislator should resign, including the junior senator New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker.
Booker said the indictment includes “shocking allegations of corruption and specific, disturbing details of wrongdoing.”
The current prosecution led by SDNY is the second corruption case filed by federal prosecutors in a decade against Menendez.
His last case ended at trial with jurors failing to reach a verdict in 2017.
U.S. law enforcement officials say they discovered about $500,000 in cash, much of it stashed in clothing and closets, as well as more than $100,000 in solid gold bars during an FBI a search of Menendez‘s home, which he shares with his wife, Nadine.
Prosecutors have said they believe the senator’s wife played an instrumental role in gathering hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of bribes from three Garden State businessmen.
The three were purportedly hoping to get assistance from Menendez. Nadine Menendez also entered a not guilty plea on Wednesday.
Damian Williams, the U.S. Attorney for SDNY has accused Menendez of using his power to help the authoritarian government of Egypt.
Williams said in a press conference earlier this week that Menendez also tried to use his power to appoint a selected federal prosecutor in New Jersey he believed could help one of his associates.
Two of the businessmen, Fred Daibes and Jose Uribe, were also arraigned and pleaded not guilty. The third, Wael Hana, pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to charges including conspiracy to commit bribery.
Hana was arrested at John F. Kennedy International Airport on Tuesday after returning from Egypt to face arrest. He was released on his own recognizance after his plea.
Menendez has tried to justify the presence of gold and cash in his home.
On Monday, he said he gradually withdrew the cash from his personal savings accounts over the years, and kept it in his house in case of a crisis.
Still, Menendez will face some hurdles if the case goes to trial.
Prosecutors have asserted that one of the cash envelopes contains Daibes’ DNA and is marked with the developer’s address.
They also charge that Hana agreed to put Menendez’s wife on his company’s payroll in a low- or no-show position as a favor to Menendez, allegedly to use his power to help arrange foreign military sales and financing to Egypt.
U.S. authorities say Hana also paid $23,000 toward Nadine Menendez’s mortgage, wrote checks to her consulting company for $30,000 and purchased some of the gold bars found in the New Jersey residence.
Prosecutors, itemized specific dinners and meetings Egyptian officials and Menendez, saying the New Jersey senator gave sensitive U.S. information to foreign officials.
They also allege Menendez ghostwrote a letter to fellow senators, asking them to remove a $300 million hold on aid to Egypt, a top recipient of Pentagon support.