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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Bob Menéndez and wife are charged with obstruction of justice

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and his wife Nadine arrive at federal court in Manhattan, Sept. 27, 2023. Menendez and his wife were charged with obstruction of justice in a new federal indictment on Tuesday, March 5, 2024, adding to the wide-ranging bribery and corruption charges they already face. (Jefferson Siegel/The New York Times)

By Benjamin Weiser and Tracey Tully

Sen. Bob Menendez and his wife, Nadine Menendez, were charged with obstruction of justice in a new federal indictment Tuesday, adding to the wide-ranging bribery and corruption charges they already face.

Prosecutors accused the couple of trying to cover up a bribe by making it look like a loan.

In the process, they lied to their own lawyers, who in turn inadvertently misrepresented the arrangement to federal prosecutors from the Southern District of New York, according to the updated indictment.

The new indictment, returned by a grand jury in Manhattan, expands the charges from four to 18, and comes just two months before the Menendezes and two New Jersey businesspeople are scheduled for trial.

Federal prosecutors said Tuesday in a letter to the judge, Sidney H. Stein of U.S. District Court, that the new indictment should not affect the scheduled trial date of May 6.

The senator and his wife and the two businesspeople — Wael Hana and Fred Daibes — all pleaded not guilty to the earlier charges and are expected to appear for an arraignment on the new counts soon.

The indictment comes just days after a fifth defendant, Jose Uribe, a former New Jersey insurance broker, pleaded guilty to trying to bribe the couple with a Mercedes-Benz and agreed to cooperate with the government’s investigation.

Some of the new charges against Bob Menendez and his wife appear related to information that was provided to the government by Uribe, who in court Friday described getting a message from Nadine Menendez after he first received a subpoena in the case.

He told Stein that they met a few hours later at a Marriott hotel, and they discussed the Mercedes that Uribe had given Nadine Menendez in exchange for the senator’s efforts to disrupt an insurance fraud investigation in New Jersey.

“She asked what was I going to say if somebody asked me about the car payments,” Uribe said in court, according to a transcript of the proceeding.

He then agreed to lie to investigators — and to his own lawyer, he told the judge.

“I knew that giving a car in return for influencing a United States senator to stop a criminal investigation was wrong,” Uribe added, “and I deeply regret my actions.”

Prosecutors said Bob Menendez and his wife hatched a plan to pay Uribe back after becoming aware that they were under investigation. They falsely referred to payments made for the Mercedes as a “loan” in conversations with their lawyers, deliberately mischaracterizing the transaction.

As a result, the indictment charges, Bob Menendez last June “caused his then counsel to make false and misleading statements to the United States attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York.” Two months later, Nadine Menendez did the same, the indictment says.

Bob Menendez, in a statement issued through his lawyers, called the new indictment “a flagrant abuse of power.”

“The government has long known that I learned of and helped repay loans — not bribes — that had been provided to my wife,” the senator said. “Not content — or capable — of meeting those facts fairly at trial, the government has now falsely alleged a cover-up and obstruction.”

Bob Menendez said the latest charges revealed far more about the government than about him, and that prosecutors were “unconstrained by any sense of justice or fair play.” He added: “It says, once and for all, that they will stop at nothing in their zeal to get me.”

Lawrence Lustberg, a lawyer for Hana, said he was still analyzing the new indictment. “It is, however, stunning to receive such a dramatic alteration of a charging document only two months before trial following an investigation that has lasted for years,” he said.

David Schertler, a lawyer for Nadine Menendez, and César de Castro, a lawyer for Daibes, each had no comment.

Bob Menendez, 70, a New Jersey Democrat, was charged in September with accepting bribes, including cash, gold bars and a luxury Mercedes, in exchange for lucrative political favors and what prosecutors described as efforts to derail criminal investigations.

Federal prosecutors in Manhattan have since expanded the accusations by filing revised indictments.

In October, Menendez was additionally charged with conspiring to act as an agent of Egypt while also serving as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. And in January, prosecutors said he had used his power to aid the government of Qatar, a tiny Gulf state and major natural gas exporter that hosted the World Cup in 2022.

The new indictment comes as Stein is considering defense motions to dismiss charges in the case. On Monday, he denied other motions seeking to exclude evidence that the defense argued was the product of unconstitutional searches by investigators.

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