(NEW YORK) -- A federal grand jury in New York has returned a sweeping indictment against United States Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., chairman of the powerful Foreign Relations Committee, in connection with improper foreign relations and business dealings.
The investigation focused on a luxury car, gold bars and an apartment allegedly received by Menendez and his wife, Nadine Arslanian. His wife was also indicted.
The indictment charges Menendez, 69, and his wife with having a corrupt relationship with three New Jersey businessmen -- Wael Hana, Jose Uribe and Fred Daides.
The indictment accuses Menendez and his wife of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars of bribes in exchange for using the senator's power and influence to seek to protect and enrich the businessman.
"Those bribes included cash, gold, payments toward a home mortgage, compensation for a low-or-no-show job, a luxury vehicle, and other things of value," the indictment said.
This is the second time New Jersey's senior senator has been charged with corruption. A 2015 indictment ended in a mistrial in 2018 after a jury failed to reach a verdict on all counts and a judge acquitted him on some charges.
The previous charges against Menendez centered on his relationship with Florida eye doctor Solomon Melgen, a close ally of the senator. Menendez allegedly accepted gifts from Melgen in exchange for using the power of his senate office to benefit the doctor's financial and personal interests.
Sen. Chuck Schumer announced Menendez has stepped down as the chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Rules for the Senate Democratic caucus say that any member who is charged with a felony must step aside from a leadership position. However, according to a person close to Menendez, the senator will not resign. Menendez is facing reelection next year.
"For years, forces behind the scenes have repeatedly attempted to silence my voice and dig my political grave," Menendez said in a statement about the indictment. "Since this investigation was leaked nearly a year ago, there has been an active smear campaign of anonymous sources and innuendos to create an air of impropriety where none exists."
He continued, "I have been falsely accused before because I refused to back down to the powers that be and the people of New Jersey were able to see through the smoke and mirrors and recognize I was innocent."
Danny Onorato, a lawyer representing Nadine Menendez, said in a statement to ABC News, "Mrs. Menendez denies any wrongdoing and will vigorously defend against these allegations in court."
In June 2022, federal agents searched Menendez's New Jersey home and found "fruits" of the pair's "corrupt bribery agreement" with the three businessmen, according to the indictment. Investigators found over $480,000 in cash, some stuffed in envelopes and hidden in clothing, as well as $70,000 in Nadine Menendez's safe deposit box.
Also found in the home were over $100,000 worth of gold bars, "provided by either Hana or Daibes," according to the indictment.
Menendez allegedly gave sensitive U.S. government information "that secretly aided the Government of Egypt" and "improperly advised and pressured" a U.S. agricultural official to protect an exclusive contract for Hana to be the exclusive purveyor of halal meat to Egypt, according to the indictment.
Menendez also tried to disrupt a criminal investigation into a second businessman in the trucking industry that had been undertaken by the New Jersey attorney general, the indictment said.
The senator is also accused of recommending someone to the president to be the U.S. attorney in New Jersey who he thought he could influence. Philip Sellinger was ultimately confirmed to the post. He recused himself from the investigation and has not been accused of wrongdoing.
A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney's Office said, "U.S. Attorney Sellinger was recused from the Daibes matter and all activity by the office related to that matter was handled appropriately according to the principles of federal prosecution."
"They wrote these charges as they wanted; the facts are not as presented," Menendez said in his statement. "Prosecutors did that the last time and look what a trial demonstrates. People should remember that before accepting the prosecutor's version."
Menendez appears to be the first senator to ever be indicted on two unrelated criminal charges while in office, according to the Senate Historical Office.
"The FBI has made investigating public corruption a top priority since our founding -- nothing has changed," FBI Assistant Director in Charge James Smith said in a statement. "The alleged conduct in this conspiracy damages the public’s faith in our system of government and brings undue scorn to the honest and dedicated public servants who carry out their duties on a daily basis."
Daibes, also named as a defendant, ultimately pleaded guilty last year in New Jersey to separate charges and is awaiting sentencing.
A spokesperson for Hana also rejected the claims in the indictment, saying, "We are still reviewing the charges but based upon our initial review, they have absolutely no merit. Mr. Hana is expected to voluntarily return to the U.S. from Egypt and appear in court on Wednesday."
New Jersey Dems called on on Senator Menendez to resign on Friday, with Gov. Phil Murphy releasing a statement, "The allegations in the indictment against Senator Menendez and four other defendants are deeply disturbing. These are serious charges that implicate national security and the integrity of our criminal justice system. I am calling for his immediate resignation."
Senate President Nick Scutari reiterated Gov. Murphy's plea to Senator Menendez to resign, with Sacutari issuing a statement, "The allegations laid out in today's indictment are alarming, and they raise serious questions about the Senator's ability to continue to serve."
Scutari continued, "I strongly believe that all Americans deserve the presumption of innocence and the ability to fully defend themselves. Due to the severity of the charges brought against him today, I believe Senator Menendez must resign from office to pursue his defense and allow our state and our nation to move forward."
All five individuals are due in Manhattan federal court on Sept. 27.
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