Federal prosecutors on Friday released damning visual evidence to back up their allegations that Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and his wife took bribes from a trio of New Jersey businesspeople.
When federal agents searched the Menendezes’ home and safety deposit box last summer, they found gold bars worth over $100,000 and more than $480,000 in cash — much of it stuffed into envelopes and hidden in clothing, closets and a safe, according to prosecutors.
Damian Williams, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, displayed photos of the gold bars and some of that cash during a press event Friday morning — pictures that are likely to haunt the senator’s political fortunes.
A lawyer for Menendez, 69, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment, but the senator said “forces behind the scenes” have tried to silence him and “dig my political grave.”
“The excesses of these prosecutors is apparent,” Menendez said in a statement. “They have misrepresented the normal work of a Congressional office. On top of that, not content with making false claims against me, they have attacked my wife for the longstanding friendships she had before she and I even met.”
Anticipating this defense, Williams said during his morning press conference that the allegations were not about the usual kind of constituent services senators can provide.
David Schertler, a lawyer for Menendez’s wife, Nadine Menendez, said she denies “any criminal conduct and will vigorously contest these charges in court.”
Prosecutors offer a visual show-and-tell of cash and gold
While defendants sometimes claim they were unaware of items found in their homes or cars, the indictment suggests that would be a tough sell for the senator. Cash-filled “envelopes were found inside jackets bearing Menendez’s name and hanging in his closet,” prosecutors say. Some of the envelopes contained DNA or fingerprints from one of the men alleged to have bribed Menendez or his driver, the indictment alleges.
At another point, just after the senator returned from a trip to Egypt in fall 2021, Menendez did a web search for “how much is one kilo of gold worth,” according to the indictment. Prosecutors allege that the senator used his power and influence to protect and enrich the businesspeople and benefit the government of Egypt.
The indictment includes photos of two windbreaker-type jackets. One identifying Menendez as a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus has two stacks of bills sitting on top of it marked “1400” and “2,900.” The other has numerous $100 bills strewn across it.
Mercedes convertible and mortgage help for wife
Much of the largesse the New Jersey businesspeople allegedly showed to Menendez flowed through the woman the senator married in 2020, Nadine Menendez (nee Arslanian).
In late 2018, an accident left Nadine Menendez without a car, the indictment says. One of the businesspeople allegedly stepped in in April 2019 to help her buy a Mercedes-Benz C-300 convertible, at one point texting an associate to request $15,000 in cash. The following day, the businessperson met Arslanian in a restaurant parking lot and handed her “approximately $15,000 in cash,” the indictment alleges, without explaining how prosecutors know about the hand-off.
Arslanian bought the car for about $60,000 the next day and Uribe made at least six monthly payments on the loan, prosecutors contend.
The money for the car came as one of the businesspeople was trying to convince New Jersey prosecutors to go easy on an unnamed associate facing a criminal case, according to the indictment. Prosecutors contend that the senator, who was kept informed about the dealings related to the case, cut a deal to attempt to get the case and investigation dropped.
Menendez called a senior prosecutor and tried “through advice and pressure” to get a favorable result for the businessperson’s associate and another person being probed, the indictment alleges. The state prosecutor considered Menendez’s intervention “inappropriate,” but the defendant in that case did not wind up getting prison time, according to the indictment.
In 2019, after her mortgage company was threatening to foreclose on her home, one of the businesspeople’s companies stepped in and sent tens of thousands of dollars to help her pay her mortgage, according to the indictment.
Wife complains of delayed payments
Nadine Menendez complained several times that payments didn’t come in as promised — in effect alleging she was upset that what prosecutors describe as bribes weren’t coming fast enough.
At one point, she complained to one of the businesspeople’s associates that she was not getting a promised low- or-no-show job, prosecutors contend. And then she complained directly to the senator, according to the indictment, texting him that, “I have been so upset all morning.”
At another point, when two of the businesspeople had not yet come through on their promises to help her with her mortgage, Nadine Menendez texted the senator, “I am soooooo upset.”
Allegations began almost immediately after another corruption case ended
The actions outlined in the indictment began only months after the Justice Department dropped a previous corruption case against Menendez in January 2018, removing a huge burden from the senator — and national Democrats — as he prepared for a reelection campaign that he won.
That year, he also began dating his now-wife. In March 2018 — weeks after federal authorities dropped the other corruption case — Nadine Menendez allegedly arranged a series of meetings with the senator, paid for by one of the businesspeople or his associates. Egyptian officials allegedly raised, among other things, requests related to foreign military sales and financing, a series of events that prompted the indictment.
Investigators have been looking into elements of the case since at least November 2019, when a search revealed thousands of text messages between Nadine Menendez and one of the businesspeople.
Now, with his son Rob Menendez in the House following the 2022 congressional elections, the elder Menendez’s political fortune is again uncertain.