NEW YORK (AP) — Four defendants in the criminal bribery case against U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez pleaded not guilty Wednesday in New York City to a revised indictment alleging that the senator, his wife and a third defendant conspired to use him as an agent of the Egyptian government.
The senator, who gave up his position as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee after his arrest last month, was excused from the Manhattan federal court proceeding until Monday because of Senate business.
The defendants entering the pleas included his wife, Nadine Menendez, and a businessman, Wael Hana.
The senator, his wife and Hana were charged in the rewritten indictment last week with a new charge of conspiring to utilize the senator as an agent of the Egyptian government even though he was prohibited from acting as one as a member of Congress.
The earlier indictment charged Menendez and his wife with participating in a bribery conspiracy by accepting bribes of cash, gold bars and a luxury car from three New Jersey businessmen who wanted the senator’s help and influence over foreign affairs.
At Wednesday’s proceeding, Judge Sidney H. Stein denied a request by Hana that a GPS monitoring device attached to his leg be removed on the grounds that it was painful and because there was no chance he would flee.
Stein ruled after Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Richenthal opposed the request, saying that Hana, a citizen of the U.S. and Egypt, was a flight risk because he was “deeply connected” to the Egyptian government and had more than $25 million in assets overseas.
Hana’s attorney, Lawrence Lustberg, said the electronic ankle bracelet that his client was required to wear was uncomfortable and “buzzes all night when he’s trying to sleep.”
“It’s an onerous condition that we feel, respectively, is simply not necessary,” Lustberg said.
He said Hana was looking forward to being exonerated at a trial scheduled for May 6 and had no interest in leaving the U.S.
“He is absolutely resolute about staying here,” Lustberg said.
Richenthal said prosecutors agreed to a $5 million bail package for Hana, even though the charges against him are not extraditable offenses in Egypt, because he agreed to wear the GPS device and because he was willing to post substantial property and cash to support his bail.
The new charge against the trio alleges that they conspired to take a series of steps on behalf of Egypt, including for Egyptian military and intelligence officials, from January 2018 to June 2022.
In a statement last week, Menendez said he will “show my innocence” at trial. His wife said through her attorney that she denies all allegations in the indictment while Lustberg said the allegation that Hana joined a plot to enlist Menendez as an agent of the Egyptian government was “as absurd as it is false.”
Prosecutors say Menendez was acting on Hana’s behalf when he urged U.S. agriculture officials to stop questioning a lucrative monopoly that Hana’s company obtained from the Egyptian government to certify that all meat imported into that country met religious requirements.
Larry Neumeister, The Associated Press