Federal prosecutors charged US Senator Robert Menendez on Friday with bribery and extortion, saying gold bars and hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash had been found at the high-ranking Democrat’s home.
In one of several allegations, the Justice Department said Menendez, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, had provided sensitive information to the Egyptian government in order to help an Egyptian-American businessman protect his monopoly.
It is the second corruption indictment in eight years against the veteran New Jersey politician, 69, and may place into question his position — and the Democratic Party’s slim majority in the Senate.
“The senator and his wife accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes in exchange for Senator Menendez using his power and influence to protect and to enrich those businessmen and to benefit the government of Egypt,” said Damian Williams, the federal prosecutor for the Manhattan, New York district.
In a statement, Menendez called the allegations “baseless” and characterized the indictment as a personal attack on him and his wife Nadine Menendez, who was also indicted.
“They have misrepresented the normal work of a Congressional office,” Menendez said.
“Those behind this campaign simply cannot accept that a first-generation Latino American from humble beginnings could rise to be a US senator and serve with honor and distinction,” he said.
Prosecutors said they found more than a half-million dollars in cash in Menendez’s New Jersey home and in his wife Nadine Menendez’s safe deposit box, allegedly received from three New Jersey businessmen seeking his help.
Much of the cash was stuffed in envelopes and boxes and hidden around their home, including some tucked into jackets bearing the veteran senator’s name.
Gold bars worth around $150,000 and a luxury Mercedes Benz convertible, gifted by one of the businessmen, were also found.
Menendez took the money to help protect two of the businessmen from Justice Department investigations, and to help the third, an Egyptian-American, with a business monopoly granted him by the Egyptian government, the indictment said.
“Among other actions, Menendez provided sensitive US Government information and took other steps that secretly aided the Government of Egypt,” it said.
Menendez, his wife, and the three businessmen, Wael Hana, Jose Uribe and Fred Daibes, were charged with two counts of bribery and fraud.
Menendez and his wife were also charged with extortion.
If found guilty, the most serious of the charges can bring up to 20 years in prison.
A senator since 2006 and before that a member of the House of Representatives for 14 years, Menendez has been a Democratic stalwart in Congress for three decades.
As the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Menendez, the son of Cuban immigrants, has been a fierce opponent of normalizing relations with the Castro regime in Cuba.
He has also been a diehard foe of other authoritarian regimes like Venezuela and China, and a defender of Israel.
In 2015, he was charged with accepting bribes of private jet flights, luxury vacations and over $750,000 in illegal campaign donations.
But the charges were dismissed three years later after a deadlocked jury could not reach a verdict in the case.
He comes up for reelection to the Senate next year, and it was not immediately clear how the new indictment could hurt his once-impenetrable standing with New Jersey voters.
“To my supporters, friends and the community at large, I ask that you recall the other times the prosecutors got it wrong and that you reserve judgement,” Menendez said in a statement Friday.
Democrats head into the 2024 elections with a narrow 51-49 majority in the Senate.