WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey and his wife have been indicted on charges of bribery.
Federal prosecutors on Friday announced the charges against the 69-year-old Democrat nearly six years after an earlier criminal case against him ended with a deadlocked jury. They said a search of Bob Menendez’s home turned up $100,000 in gold bars and $480,000 in hidden cash.
The latest indictment is unrelated to the earlier charges that alleged Menendez accepted lavish gifts to pressure government officials on behalf of a Florida doctor.
The Senate Historical Office says Menendez appears to be the first sitting senator in U.S. history to have been indicted on two unrelated criminal allegations. Menendez faces reelection next year in a bid to extend his three-decade career in Washington, and as Democrats hold a narrow majority in the Senate.
A lawyer for Menendez’s wife hasn’t responded to a message seeking comment. Messages were left for Menendez’s Senate spokesperson and his political consultant.
The first time Menendez was indicted, he had been accused of using his political influence to help a Florida eye doctor who had lavished him with gifts and campaign contributions. Menendez appears to be the first sitting senator in U.S. history to have been indicted on two unrelated criminal allegations, according to a list maintained by the Senate Historical Office.
The new charges follow a yearslong investigation that examined, among other things, the dealings of a New Jersey businessman — a friend of Menendez’s wife — who secured sole authorization from the Egyptian government to certify that meat imported into that country meets Islamic dietary requirements. Investigators also asked questions about the Menendez family’s interactions with a New Jersey developer.
Menendez faces re-election next year in a bid to extend his three-decade career in Washington, and as Democrats hold a narrow majority in the Senate.
Menendez’s political career had looked as though it might be over in 2015, when a federal grand jury in New Jersey indicted him on multiple charges over favors he did for a friend, Dr. Salomon Melgen.
Menendez was accused of pressuring government officials to resolve a Medicare billing dispute in Melgen’s favor, securing visas for the doctor’s girlfriends and helping protect a contract the doctor had to provide port-screening equipment to the Dominican Republic.
Menendez has always maintained his innocence. His lawyers said campaign contributions and gifts from Melgen — which included trips on his private jet to a resort in the Dominican Republic and a vacation in Paris — were tokens of their longtime friendship, not bribes.
Prosecutors dropped the case after a jury deadlocked in November 2017 on charges including bribery, fraud and conspiracy, and a judge dismissed some counts.
The Senate Ethics Committee later rebuked Menendez, finding that he had improperly accepted gifts, failed to disclose them and then used his influence to advance Melgen’s personal interests.
But months later, New Jersey voters returned Menendez to the Senate. He defeated a well-financed challenger in a midterm election that broke a Republican lock on power in Washington.
Melgen was convicted of health care fraud in 2017 but former President Donald Trump commuted his prison sentence.
Menendez is widely expected to run for reelection next year.
The son of Cuban immigrants, Menendez has held public office continuously since 1986, when he was elected mayor of Union City, New Jersey. He was a state legislator and spent 14 years in the U.S. House of Representatives. In 2006, Gov. Jon Corzine appointed Menendez to the Senate seat he vacated when he became governor.
At least two other senators — Kay Bailey Hutchinson, R-Texas; Richard Kenney, D-Delaware — were indicted on multiple occasions while still in office, but each senator’s indictments covered overlapping allegations, according to the Senate Historical Office.
Neither Kenney nor Hutchinson were ultimately convicted, and both went on to serve their full terms. In total, 13 senators have been indicted throughout history, of which six have been convicted, according to the Senate Historical Office. Two of those convictions were overturned.
Menendez first publicly disclosed that he was the subject of a new federal investigation last October.
The Associated Press