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NJ Sen. Bob Menendez and wife plead not guilty to bribery charges in Manhattan court

New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, flanked by supporters, during a press conference at the Hudson County Community College - North Hudson Campus in Union, New Jersey, Monday Sept. 25, 2023. (Luiz C. Ribeiro/New York Daily News/TNS)

Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, facing federal bribery charges for the second time in less than a decade, appeared in a Manhattan courtroom Wednesday and pleaded not guilty.

Menendez, 69, wearing a slate gray pinstripe suit with a paisley blue tie, appeared at court with his wife, Nadine, who is also charged and pleaded not guilty.

The Democratic senator, buffeted by a blast of Democratic calls for his resignation, said little in court and waived a reading of his indictment.

He pleaded not guilty through his lawyer, and uttered three words — “yes, your honor,” when Manhattan Magistrate Judge Ona Wang asked him if he understood his rights.

His bond was set at $100,000. The bond for Nadine was set at $250,000.

Menendez, previously charged with corruption in a separate case that ended in a mistrial nearly six year ago, now stands accused of accepting gold bars, a Mercedes-Benz convertible and hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes in exchange for favors to three New Jersey businessmen and the Egyptian government.

A three-count indictment, filed by the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office last Thursday, accused the Democratic senator of indirectly leaking highly sensitive information to Egypt’s government and secretly editing a letter on its behalf in an effort to unlock U.S. funding to the authoritarian nation.

Menendez, one of 13 U.S. senators in history to be indicted, served for a decade as the chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He stepped down from the role after the indictment was unsealed Friday.

On Tuesday, Wael Hana, a 40-year-old halal entrepreneur from Egypt who is accused of playing a key role in the bribery scheme, was arrested at Kennedy Airport and appeared in court in Manhattan, pleading not guilty.

Federal agents who searched Menendez’s home last year found more than $100,000 worth of gold bars and more than more than $480,000 in cash stashed in often odd places, like clothing and closets, according to charging papers.

Another $70,000 turned up in his wife’s safe deposit box, the U.S. attorney’s office charged.

Menendez and his wife face counts of conspiracy to commit bribery, conspiracy to commit honest services fraud and conspiracy to commit extortion. If convicted, they could face up to 45 years in federal prison.

The three businessmen — Hana; Jose Uribe, who works in trucking and insurance; and Fred Daibes, a real estate developer and bank founder — each face a maximum prison term of 25 years if convicted. Uribe and Daibes pleaded not guilty Wednesday.

Menendez pressured a U.S. Agriculture Department official to protect an arrangement giving Hana’s company an exclusive monopoly on halal exports from the U.S. to Egypt, despite Hana having no experience with halal certification, the U.S. attorney’s office alleged.

Most of the Senate’s Democratic caucus, including New Jersey’s Cory Booker, has called on Menendez to resign, issuing a deafening drumbeat of statements across Tuesday. Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat who could install a replacement for Menendez, has also urged him to step down.

But the majority leader, Chuck Schumer of Brooklyn, has not publicly told Menendez to go. Menendez has vowed not to resign.

“I firmly believe that when all the facts are presented, not only will I be exonerated, but I still will be New Jersey’s senior senator,” he told reporters Monday.

The embattled New Jersey senator arrived at court shortly after 9 a.m. on Wednesday. He had no comment as he entered.

Under bail terms set Wednesday, he must surrender his personal passports but not his official passports, and can only travel abroad for official business.


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