New Jersey's top Democrats are simultaneously calling for the senator to resign
NEW YORK (WABC) -- A federal grand jury in New York has returned an indictment Friday against United States Sen. Bob Menendez, chairman of the powerful Foreign Relations committee, and his wife, and now New Jersey's top Democrats, including Governor Phil Murphy are calling on the senator to resign.
Menendez and his wife Nadine are accused of taking 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, 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.
A 2015 case ended in a mistrial after a jury failed to reach a verdict on all counts and a judge acquitted him on some charges. In that case, Menendez was accused of accepting lavish gifts to pressure government officials on behalf of a Florida doctor.
The latest indictment charges Menendez and his wife with having a corrupt relationship with three New Jersey businessmen.
They are accused 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 businessmen.
The three other people charged include prominent New Jersey real estate developer Fred Daibes, Wael Hana, a longtime friend of Nadine Menendez, who founded a halal meat certification business in New Jersey, and Jose Uribe, a New Jersey businessman who works in the trucking and insurance business.
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 Hana had to be the exclusive purveyor of halal meat to Egypt, according to the indictment.
Menendez is also accused of recommending to the president someone to be the U.S. Attorney in New Jersey he thought he could influence.
Daibes pleaded guilty last year to a financial crime and is awaiting sentencing.
An attorney for Nadine Menendez denied any criminal conduct and a spokesperson for Hana said the charges are still being reviewed but have no merit.
Menendez is the first sitting senator in U.S. history to be indicted on two unrelated criminal allegations, per the Senate Historical Office
Now that he is indicted, Menendez will have to step down as chairman of the 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.
Many of the state's top Democrats including Gov. Murphy are calling for Menendez to resign.
"The allegations in the indictment against Senator Menendez and four other defendants are deeply disturbing," Murphy said in a statement. "These are serious charges that implicate national security and the integrity of our criminal justice system. Under our legal system, Senator Menendez and the other defendants have not been found guilty and will have the ability to present evidence disputing these charges, and we must respect the process. However, the alleged facts are so serious that they compromise the ability of Senator Menendez to effectively represent the people of our state. Therefore, I am calling for his immediate resignation."
In simultaneous statements, state Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, state Senate President Nick Scutari and New Jersey Democratic State Committee Chairman LeRoy Jones all called for the Menendez's resignation.
The senator was swift in his response, saying "I am not going anywhere."
"Those who believe in justice believe in innocence until proven guilty," he said. "I intend to continue to fight for the people of New Jersey with the same success I've had for the past five decades. This is the same record of success these very same leaders have lauded all along. It is not lost on me how quickly some are rushing to judge a Latino and push him out of his seat. I am not going anywhere."
The senator is expected to appear in federal court in Lower Manhattan next Wednesday.
Menendez issued a statement, calling the allegations against him a smear campaign and said he has been falsely accused:
"For years, forces behind the scenes have repeatedly attempted to silence my voice and dig my political grave. 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.
"The excesses of these prosecutors is apparent. 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.
"Those behind this campaign simply cannot accept that a first-generation Latino American from humble beginnings could rise to be a U.S. Senator and serve with honor and distinction. Even worse, they see me as an obstacle in the way of their broader political goals.
"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. I have worked every day to repay their trust by fighting to create jobs, strengthen public safety, update infrastructure, and reduce costs for New Jersey families. I have also stood steadfast against dictators around the globe - whether they be in Iran, Cuba, Turkey, or elsewhere - fighting against the forces of appeasement and standing with those who stand for freedom and democracy. I remain focused on continuing this important work and will not be distracted by baseless allegations.
"They wrote these charges as they wanted; the facts are not as presented. Prosecutors did that the last time and look what a trial demonstrates. People should remember that before accepting the prosecutor's version.
"To my supporters, friends and the community at large, I ask that you recall the other times the prosecutors got it wrong and that you reserve judgement. I am confident that this matter will be successfully resolved once all of the facts are presented and my fellow New Jerseyans will see this for what it is."
(The Associated Press and ABC News contributed to this report.)