U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey and his wife were indicted Friday on charges that they took bribes of cash, gold bars and a luxury car for a range of corrupt acts, including having the Democrat use his influence over foreign affairs to benefit the authoritarian government of Egypt.
A search of the couple's home turned up $100,000 in gold bars and $480,000 in hidden cash at their home, said prosecutors, who announced the charges against the 69-year-old Democrat nearly six years after an earlier criminal case against him ended with a deadlocked jury.
The latest indictment is unrelated to the earlier charges that alleged Menendez accepted lavish gifts to pressure government officials on behalf of a Florida doctor.
The Senate Historical Office says Menendez appears to be the first sitting senator in U.S. history to have been indicted on two unrelated criminal allegations. Menendez faces reelection next year in a bid to extend his three-decade career in Washington, and as Democrats hold a narrow majority in the Senate.
A lawyer for Menendez's wife hasn't responded to a message seeking comment. Messages were left for Menendez’s Senate spokesperson and his political consultant.
The first time Menendez was indicted, he had been accused of using his political influence to help a Florida eye doctor who had lavished him with gifts and campaign contributions.
The new charges follow a yearslong investigation that examined, among other things, the dealings of a New Jersey businessman — a friend of Menendez’s wife — who secured sole authorization from the Egyptian government to certify that meat imported into that country meets Islamic dietary requirements. Investigators also asked questions about the Menendez family’s interactions with a New Jersey developer.
Menendez faces re-election next year in a bid to extend his three-decade career in Washington, and as Democrats hold a narrow majority in the Senate.
Menendez’s political career had looked as though it might be over in 2015, when a federal grand jury in New Jersey indicted him on multiple charges over favors he did for a friend, Dr. Salomon Melgen.
Menendez was accused of pressuring government officials to resolve a Medicare billing dispute in Melgen’s favor, securing visas for the doctor’s girlfriends and helping protect a contract the doctor had to provide port-screening equipment to the Dominican Republic.
Menendez has always maintained his innocence. His lawyers said campaign contributions and gifts from Melgen — which included trips on his private jet to a resort in the Dominican Republic and a vacation in Paris — were tokens of their longtime friendship, not bribes.
Prosecutors dropped the case after a jury deadlocked in November 2017 on charges including bribery, fraud and conspiracy, and a judge dismissed some counts.
The Senate Ethics Committee later rebuked Menendez, finding that he had improperly accepted gifts, failed to disclose them and then used his influence to advance Melgen’s personal interests.
But months later, New Jersey voters returned Menendez to the Senate. He defeated a well-financed challenger in a midterm election that broke a Republican lock on power in Washington.
Melgen was convicted of health care fraud in 2017 but former President Donald Trump commuted his prison sentence.
Menendez is widely expected to run for reelection next year.
The son of Cuban immigrants, Menendez has held public office continuously since 1986, when he was elected mayor of Union City, New Jersey. He was a state legislator and spent 14 years in the U.S. House of Representatives. In 2006, Gov. Jon Corzine appointed Menendez to the Senate seat he vacated when he became governor.
At least two other senators -- Kay Bailey Hutchinson, R-Texas; Richard Kenney, D-Delaware -- were indicted on multiple occasions while still in office, but each senator’s indictments covered overlapping allegations, according to the Senate Historical Office.
Neither Kenney nor Hutchinson were ultimately convicted, and both went on to serve their full terms. In total, 13 senators have been indicted throughout history, of which six have been convicted, according to the Senate Historical Office. Two of those convictions were overturned.
Menendez first publicly disclosed that he was the subject of a new federal investigation last October. Prosecutors declined at the time to comment, but some details of their investigation emerged in news reports and court records.
In 2019, federal agents seized electronic devices and records from the offices of IS EG Halal, a New Jersey company that had been named by the Egyptian government as the sole company to certify that imported meat met religious requirements.
The designation surprised U.S. agriculture officials. Previously, several other companies had been doing that certification, but they were dismissed by Egyptian agriculture officials in favor of IS EG Halal, which had no previous experience in the field.
The switch happened the same year that Menendez became engaged to Nadine Arslanian, an acquaintance of the new halal certification company’s owner, Wael Hana, of Edgewater, New Jersey.
Records show Arslanian, 56, was battling foreclosure on her Bergen County property in 2018. When she and Menendez got engaged it began a period of financial turnaround for Arslanian, a former marketer for a medical company.
Within weeks of their engagement, she incorporated a business, Strategic International Business Consultants LLC, according to state records. Her foreclosure case was dismissed soon after. The following year, her assets included gold bars valued between $100,000 to $250,000, according to a Senate disclosure form amended by Menendez in March of 2022.
Between April and June of 2022, the couple cashed out at least part of their precious metal holdings, forms show, selling between $200,000 and $400,000 worth of gold bars, while keeping at least $250,000 worth of them.
An attorney for Arslanian, David Schertler, did not respond to a request for comment about his client’s international business work or how she acquired the gold bars.
After news reports last May that federal prosecutors were examining whether Menendez or his wife had received unreported gifts from the business, Hana’s spokesperson denied that any U.S. official had assisted the company.
“Nor is there any evidence that the contract was awarded based upon bribery or corruption in Egypt or any other purportedly suspicious activity — and nothing like that has ever even been alleged,” a spokesperson for Hana, Steven Goldberg, said in a recent email to the Associated Press.
“Any allegations about cars, apartments, cash, and jewelry being provided by anyone associated with IS EG Halal to Senator Menendez or his wife at all, let alone in exchange for any kind of favorable treatment, are totally without basis. Events that occurred years ago are being taken out of context.”
Federal prosecutors last year interviewed a lawyer close to Hana. The attorney, Antranig “Andy” Aslanian, told The AP he was asked about Hana and Nadine Arslanian, who he described as a longtime friend.
“They’re trying to establish that Menendez helped Hana in Egypt,” Aslanian said. He described such suspicions as “bull,” adding that he once accompanied Hana to Egypt and found him to be well-connected with officials.
“He walks into every government office, they all knew him,” he said. “Hana did not need Menendez at all. He’d be more of a hindrance than a help.”
U.S. investigators also issued at least one subpoena last spring seeking correspondence from Menendez, his wife, or an Edgewater developer, Fred Daibes, whose company owns the building where IS EG Halal has offices. The subpoena, which was sent to state Sen. Nicholas Sacco, referenced a state bill that would have limited development in certain areas along the Hudson River, including where Daibes owns property.
Editor’s note: Significant updates added with summary of the charges, background on Menendez, details of the investigation and earlier criminal case. Headline updated with new information.