What you need to know about the start of Bob Menendez’s corruption trial.

Jury selection for the corruption trial of New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez commenced on Monday. Menendez is facing allegations of exchanging his political power for monetary rewards such as cash, gold bars, and even a new Mercedes-Benz convertible.

No jurors were selected when the court adjourned in the early evening. The judge privately interviewed many potential jurors who indicated that they believed they were unfit to serve. As a result, approximately three dozen individuals were dismissed. Over 100 potential jurors were asked to return to the federal courthouse in New York City on Tuesday for further questioning.

The allegations surfaced in 2018, coinciding with the period when the Democratic senator commenced a relationship with his now-wife, Nadine Menendez. She, too, faces charges in connection with the corruption investigation. According to prosecutors, Menendez is accused of granting political favors to three businessmen from New Jersey and clandestinely assisting the governments of Egypt and Qatar.

Recent court filings have brought to light potential defense strategies employed by Menendez. One approach involves implicating his wife in the case, while another argues that his accumulation of cash was a means of coping with two major traumas he experienced in his life.

Seated in the row in front of his legal team, Menendez, dressed in a dark blue suit and a red tie, occasionally fidgeted and tapped his fingers on the table. He, along with his two codefendants, has pleaded not guilty and has not ruled out the possibility of testifying.

According to U.S. District Judge Sidney Stein, the trial is expected to span a duration of six or seven weeks, concluding sometime in late June or early July.

What are Menendez and his wife charged with?

The initial indictment outlined a long-standing corruption scheme in which Menendez supposedly used his position as the chairman of the influential Senate Foreign Relations Committee to clandestinely favor Egypt. He allegedly exerted pressure on a U.S. Department of Agriculture official to safeguard a business monopoly granted by Egypt to a New Jersey businessman named Wael Hana. Furthermore, Menendez is accused of meddling in a criminal investigation and prosecution conducted by the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office, which involved a second New Jersey businessman named Jose Uribe and his associates. Additionally, he is said to have attempted to influence a federal prosecution of a third New Jersey businessman named Fred Daibes.

In October 2023, a new indictment was issued, accusing the couple of conspiring to act as a foreign agent for Egypt. Prosecutors claim that Menendez and his wife, through Hana, shared confidential and sensitive information about the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and U.S. military aid to Egypt with Egyptian officials. Additionally, the senator is alleged to have written a letter on behalf of Egypt, urging his fellow Senate members to release a hold on $300 million in aid.

Nadine Menendez supposedly sent a text message to an Egyptian intelligence official in March 2020, offering her assistance and providing her contact number. The text message was sent just days before she facilitated a meeting between her husband and the official.

In January, a new indictment was issued, accusing Menendez of making positive remarks about the Qatari government while Daibes was trying to secure a multimillion-dollar investment from a company linked to the government.

In March, Menendez faced a third superseding indictment that added twelve new criminal charges, bringing the total to sixteen. The additional charges against him include obstruction of justice, acting as a foreign agent, bribery, extortion, and honest services wire fraud. Meanwhile, Nadine Menendez, whose trial was separated from her husband’s due to a serious medical condition, is facing fifteen charges of her own. She, too, has pleaded not guilty.

Prosecutors claim that the businessmen provided the Menendezes with extravagant gifts, such as cash, gold bars, a Mercedes-Benz convertible, furniture, and payments for a home mortgage. In return, they expected the senator to utilize his power and influence to further their own financial gains. Notably, these gifts were given during a time when Nadine Menendez was facing foreclosure on her home, adding to the complexity of the allegations.

During the execution of a search warrant at the couple’s residence in June 2022, investigators came across an astonishing discovery. They stumbled upon a staggering $480,000 in cash, cunningly concealed within envelopes and coats. Additionally, they unearthed 13 gold bars with a combined value exceeding $100,000. Furthermore, a safe deposit box located in a nearby bank yielded an unexpected treasure trove of nearly $80,000. This incredible find left investigators astounded by the couple’s hidden wealth.

After being indicted, Menendez revealed that he had been withdrawing thousands of dollars each month from his personal savings account for the past 30 years as a precautionary measure for emergencies. He attributed this “old-fashioned” habit to his family’s experiences in Cuba.

Who are the other defendants?

Hana and the senator had known each other for years before they began dating. Originally from Egypt, Hana resided in New Jersey and ran a start-up called IS EG Halal. Surprisingly, Hana’s company quickly became the exclusive certifier of halal products imported to Egypt, even though she had no prior experience in the halal industry.

According to court documents, Hana and Nadine Menendez frequently acted as go-betweens for the senator and Egyptian officials. They were responsible for organizing lavish dinners at upscale restaurants and arranging meetings in his Senate office. In an alleged quid pro quo, Hana hired Nadine for a position in his company, which prosecutors claim was a low- or no-show job. This arrangement occurred after the senator made promises to leverage his influence to facilitate foreign military sales to Egypt.

In December 2018, Nadine Menendez found herself without a car after a crash. She sought assistance from Hana, who introduced her to Uribe, a business partner involved in an insurance fraud case. According to the accusations, the following month, Menendez and the couple agreed to have her intervene in the insurance fraud case. In exchange, Uribe allegedly facilitated the purchase of a black Mercedes-Benz convertible for Nadine Menendez. He met her in a restaurant parking lot, where he handed over $15,000 in cash for the down payment and later arranged for the car payments.

According to the indictments, Hana’s firm was granted a monopoly by Egypt, which served as a “revenue stream” to pay the Menendezes. However, this monopoly resulted in increased costs for other U.S. meat suppliers. When U.S. officials raised concerns, Hana sought the senator’s assistance in pressuring the Department of Agriculture to ease off.

In the summer of 2019, according to prosecutors, Nadine Menendez, who was struggling to catch up on her mortgage payments and facing foreclosure, once again reached out to Hana and Uribe for assistance. Allegedly, Hana’s company paid $23,000 to bring the mortgage payments up to date while Menendez attempted to exert pressure on New Jersey officials to halt the ongoing fraud investigation connected to Uribe.

According to the indictments, Menendez had interfered with previous cases as well. In late 2020, the senator had a meeting with an individual who was later nominated to be the U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey. During the meeting, Menendez criticized the office’s handling of Daibes, a New Jersey real estate developer and an associate of Hana’s. Daibes had been charged in 2018 with obtaining loans under false pretenses. When the person mentioned the possibility of recusing himself from the prosecution, Menendez responded by stating that he would recommend another individual for the U.S. attorney nomination.

During 2021 and 2022, Menendez publicly expressed admiration for the government of Qatar. Prosecutors claimed that this endorsement played a role in Daibes securing a deal with a Qatari investor. Furthermore, while the senator was actively involved in interfering with Daibes’ federal prosecution, the real estate developer allegedly provided Menendez with gold bars, cash, and even a recliner.

Hours after having dinner with his wife and Daibes in May 2022, Menendez allegedly searched online for the price of one kilo of gold.

Federal agents conducted search warrants at the Menendezes’ home and safe deposit box less than a month after the incident.

Prosecutors accuse Uribe of ceasing payments on Nadine Menendez’s Mercedes and informing her that he would label the payments as a loan if questioned by investigators. Allegedly, Menendez and his spouse attempted to hide the mortgage and car payments by issuing checks to Hana and Uribe, disguising them as loan payments. As a result, the indictment states that Menendez and his wife’s attorneys provided investigators with deceptive statements in 2023.

Uribe admitted his guilt on seven counts, which included conspiracy to commit bribery, honest services wire fraud, obstruction of justice, and tax evasion. He made the decision to cooperate with investigators earlier this year.

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