Gold bars, stacks of money and bribery costs: is time up for Bob Menendez?

Gold bars, stacks of money and bribery costs: is time up for Bob Menendez?

When federal prosecutors raided Bob Menendez’s dwelling in the summertime of 2022, they discovered a staggering haul.

The US senator for New Jersey, one of the influential and highly effective Democrats within the nation, had virtually $500,000 in money stuffed into jacket pockets, closets and a secure, together with 13 gold bars, two of them marked as 1kg in weight.

Within the storage was a gleaming Mercedes-Benz, allegedly purchased for Menendez and his spouse, who has been charged alongside along with her husband with accepting bribes in return for political favors.

“Congratulations mon amour de la vie, we’re the proud homeowners of a 2019 Mercedes,” Nadine Mendendez texted her husband on taking possession of the black convertible in April 2019. A day earlier, prosecutors say, a New Jersey businessman, who has a earlier conviction for fraud, gave her $15,000 in money in the direction of the automotive, and would ultimately pay for its whole price.

Menendez was final week accused, together with his spouse and three Jersey-based businessmen, of a staggering vary of offenses. The story has struck a blow to the center of Democratic politics, particularly when the get together is busy attempting to persuade an more and more cynical voters it’s a secure pair of arms for sincere American governance.

In line with the charging doc, Menendez used his place as chairman of the Senate overseas relations committee to profit Egypt in change for a whole lot of 1000’s of {dollars} in bribes.

Menendez additionally used his “energy and affect”, in accordance with the indictment, to safe and preserve a profitable contract with Egypt for a enterprise affiliate. Nearer to dwelling, Menendez allegedly tried to disrupt a New Jersey felony prosecution on behalf of one other businessman pal.

Menendez, 69, has pleaded not responsible to conspiracy to commit bribery, conspiracy to commit sincere providers fraud, and conspiracy to commit extortion below colour of official proper.

Wednesday’s look at a federal courtroom in Manhattan marked an ignominious second for Menendez, who mentioned he is not going to step down and remains to be planning to run for re-election subsequent 12 months. But it surely was removed from the primary.

In 2015, he was charged in reference to a bribery scheme, after allegedly accepting presents from a businessman pal, in change for intervening in a dispute with the federal government of the Dominican Republic. The case went to courtroom in 2017, however led to a mistrial after the jury was deadlocked.

Menendez grew up in a tenement constructing in Union Metropolis, New Jersey, the bilingual son of Cuban immigrants. His was the “quintessential American story”, in accordance with his web site: elected to the Union Metropolis board of training when he was 19, he then graduated from St Peter’s College in New Jersey with a regulation diploma.

He turned mayor of Jersey Metropolis in 1986, aged 32, and was a congressman by the point he was 39. In 2006, Menendez was elected to the Senate, the place he turned a key determine on the overseas relations committee.

The newest costs are prone to convey an finish to that illustrious profession. Not less than 18 Senate Democrats have referred to as for Menendez to resign, together with New Jersey’s governor and a lot of the state’s congressmen and ladies.

However Menendez is combating and says he has been “falsely accused” as a result of he’s Latino. He insists he is not going to step down.

Menendez informed reporters he had saved the almost $500,000 discovered at his dwelling over the course of 30 years, and saved it in money “due to the historical past of my household dealing with confiscation in Cuba”. However he has not addressed questions on why a number of the cash bore the fingerprints and DNA of Fred Daibes, a New Jersey actual property developer accused of paying Menendez bribes.

The story of Menendez’s alleged corruption can’t be separated from the story of his marriage.

Menendez met Nadine Arslanian in late 2017, at an iHop – a well-liked chain of pancake eating places – in Jersey Metropolis.

Menendez, a diminutive gray-haired man, was in his mid-60s on the time. That February, he and Arslanian have been courting, and Menendez proposed in October 2019 on the Taj Mahal.

A video of the proposal, posted to a YouTube account referred to as Robert&Nadine, confirmed Menendez singing a snippet from the tune By no means Sufficient, from the film The Biggest Showman, earlier than asking Arslanian to marry him. She mentioned sure, they usually married in October 2020.

On the time they met, Nadine Menendez had been pals with Wael Hana, an Egyptian American businessman, for a few years – exchanging “1000’s of textual content messages” – in accordance with the indictment. Born in Egypt, Hana “maintained shut connections with Egyptian officers”, prosecutors mentioned.

In early 2018, Nadine informed Hana she was courting Menendez, and by March 2018, Hana was organizing conferences between Menendez and Egyptian navy officers.

Damian Williams, US legal professional for the southern district of New York, speaks after costs have been introduced towards Menendez. {Photograph}: Alexi J Rosenfeld/Getty Pictures

These conferences, at Menendez’s Senate workplace and at upscale eating places, got here as Egypt was anxious to safe American money.

For a number of years previous to 2018, Egypt “had usually confronted resistance in acquiring overseas navy financing and overseas navy gross sales” from the US, in accordance with the indictment, and in August 2017 the US state division mentioned it was withholding $195m from Egypt till it may “show enhancements on human rights and democracy”.

For Egypt, Menendez’s place as chair of the overseas relations committee made him a profitable contact. A longstanding conference within the US authorities held that the state division wouldn’t proceed with a switch of cash to Egypt, or with the sale of navy tools, with out sign-off from the chairman or rating member of the committee.

As such, in accordance with the indictment, “Robert Mendendez […] possessed substantial affect over the overseas navy gross sales and overseas navy financing to Egypt.”

On the conferences, organized by Hana, Egyptian officers repeatedly raised the problem of overseas navy gross sales and overseas financing, prosecutors say. Menendez promised to “use his energy and authority to facilitate such gross sales and financing to Egypt”, in accordance with the indictment, in change for Hana placing Nadine Menendez on his firm’s payroll.

Studying the indictment, considered one of most hanging themes is how the Menendezes did not cowl their tracks. Prosecutors discovered a flood of textual content messages and emails between the pair, a few of which appear to immediately reference actions and funds.

On 6 Could 2018, in accordance with the indictment, Bob and Nadine Menendez met with Hana. That afternoon, Menendez requested the state division for staffing data concerning the US embassy in Cairo. The data was not formally categorized, however was “deemed extremely delicate”, the indictment says, as a result of it may pose “important operational safety issues if disclosed to a overseas authorities”.

Having obtained the data, Menendez texted Nadine a full breakdown of the individuals who labored within the embassy, together with the variety of US diplomats, and the variety of domestically employed Egyptian employees. Nadine Menendez forwarded the message to Hana, who forwarded it to an Egyptian authorities official, in accordance with the indictment.

Later that month, Menendez was once more requested for his providers, prosecutors say. An Egyptian official requested assist in modifying and drafting an electronic mail lobbying US senators to launch a maintain on $300m of US support to Egypt.

Menendez “edited and ghost-wrote” the requested letter, in accordance with the indictment, and despatched the letter to Nadine Menendez from his private electronic mail account. She despatched the letter to Hana, who gave the draft to Egyptian officers.

The cash didn’t instantly circulate.

The plan, in accordance with prosecutors, was that Hana pay cash to Nadine Menendez by way of his firm, IS EG Halal. However a number of months after Bob Menendez had met, and allegedly labored on behalf of, the Egyptian officers, no cash had emerged.

“I’ve been so upset all morning,” Nadine Menendez texted her husband in the future, complaining that Hana was but to pay her any cash.

Within the spring of 2019, issues started to search for for the Menendezes. Egypt granted Hana’s firm, IS EG Halal, an “unique monopoly” on the certification of US meals exports to Egypt over halal requirements.

IS EG Halal had no expertise in halal certification, however the deal offered a income stream from which, prosecutors allege, bribes have been paid to the Menendezes – by way of a “advisor” firm arrange by Nadine Menendez in June 2019.

“Looks as if halal went by way of. It is likely to be a implausible 2019 all the way in which round,” Nadine Menendez texted her husband on 8 April 2019, the day after IS EG Halal was awarded the Egypt deal.

With IS EG Halal now in enterprise, cash began flowing to the Menendezes.

In July of that 12 months, IS EG Halal paid about $23,000 to Nadine Menendez’s mortgage, in accordance with the indictment. Menendez acquired additional checks for $10,000 in August, September and November of the identical 12 months – which Daibes allegedly helped to facilitate.

The connection continued, in accordance with the indictment, and the Menendezes continued to profit, to the tune of “a whole lot of 1000’s of {dollars} in checks, money and gold”, prosecutors say.

Alongside the way in which, the Mercedes-Benz was bought for the delighted Nadine Menendez with cash allegedly offered by Hana and Jose Uribe, one of many co-defendants and a businessman who has a earlier conviction for fraud.

The Mercedes was acquired after Menendez allegedly promised to intervene to disrupt the New Jersey prosecution of a pal of Uribe, in an instance of how Menendez’s providers have been out there each dwelling and overseas.

Generally the alleged bribes have been extra prosaic – costly furnishings, two train machines and an air air purifier have been purchased for the couple by IS EG Halal – however nonetheless amounted to 1000’s of {dollars}.

Within the indictment, prosecutors have requested that the couple be required to forfeit to the federal government their dwelling, the Mercedes, and the $480,000 in money, plus $79,760 present in a secure deposit field, and all their gold bars.

As for Menendez’s political profession, it might now be perpetually related to the photographs launched by investigators from his dwelling: the virtually parody-of-corruption photographs displaying cash stuffed into pockets, and gold bars laid out on paper towels.

One of many jackets Menendez used to retailer his money had his political title emblazoned on the chest: Senator Menendez. If prosecutors – and plenty of of his colleagues – have their manner, the New Jerseyite shall be referred to as that no extra.

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