Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey and his wife, Nadine Menendez, pleaded not guilty to bribery charges in Manhattan federal court. The couple is accused of accepting bribes, including cash, gold bullion, and a Mercedes-Benz convertible, from three New Jersey businessmen. Prosecutors claim that the bribes were given in exchange for the senator’s efforts to direct federal aid and weapons sales to Egypt. The indictment also alleges that Menendez attempted to influence criminal investigations in New Jersey.
The conspiracy described by prosecutors has been called shocking and disturbing by one of Menendez’s closest allies, Senator Cory Booker. The scheme involved payments to Menendez and his wife in order to benefit one of the businessmen’s halal meat business. The company, IS EG Halal, received exclusive rights to certify imported meat from the United States for Egypt, despite having little to no experience in the industry. Prosecutors also claim that Menendez tried to silence a high-level U.S. Department of Agriculture official who objected to the monopoly.
The charges come after a lengthy investigation led by the FBI and prosecutors in the Southern District of New York. While much of the alleged activity took place in New Jersey, parts of the conspiracy occurred in Manhattan, falling within the Southern District’s jurisdiction. Menendez had previously faced similar charges in 2015, but the trial resulted in a hung jury. The Justice Department declined to retry him after a judge dismissed the most serious charges. Prosecutors say the new corruption scheme began the following month.