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From gold bars to pricey cars: All the bribes Sen. Bob Menendez has been accused of taking over the years

By Jeremy Roebuck and Andrew Seidman, The Philadelphia Inquirer
Published: September 30, 2023, 6:01am

U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez (D., N.J.) pleaded not guilty Wednesday in the latest case accusing him of pocketing bribes worth hundreds of thousands of dollars from wealthy benefactors seeking his help with their business and legal problems.

The three-term Democrat has vowed to fight the case. But he’s faced similar allegations before — starting with gifts he received in 2006, the year he began representing New Jersey in the Senate.

In 2015, he was charged with accepting benefits including free flights and pricey resort vacations from a friend and political benefactor. That case ended in a hung jury, and a judge later acquitted Menendez of some bribery counts and prosecutors opted not to retry the others. But while the senator denied that those gifts were bribes, he never disputed that he’d accepted them.

In 2018, the Senate Ethics Committee “severely admonished” Menendez for again taking improper gifts without reporting them on his required financial disclosure forms. The senator was ordered to repay the costs of those benefits.

Prosecutors in the latest case — filed last week in federal court in Manhattan — say Menendez again failed to disclose benefits he and his wife, Nadine Arlanian, received from three wealthy businessmen in New Jersey between 2018 and 2022.

From gold bars to pricey cars, here’s a look at all the gifts and financial benefits Menendez has been accused of improperly accepting over the years:

  • 18 private jet flights: In the 2015 indictment, federal prosecutors accused Menendez of accepting the flights between 2006 and 2010 from his benefactor and friend, Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen. The trips — mostly between Teterboro Airport in New Jersey and the a vacation villa Melgen owned in the Dominican Republic — occurred during a period in which Menendez was accused of taking several official actions on Melgen’s behalf, including helping arrange visas for Melgen’s foreign girlfriends and weighing in to protect a $500 port security contract Melgen’s company held in the Dominican Republic. After some of those free flights received scrutiny in news reports, Menendez wrote a $58,500 check to Melgen to cover two round-trip flights, saying he forgot to provide reimbursements. He said at the time he took only three flights with Melgen. Prosecutors said that was a lie.
  • $9,000 in first-class domestic airfare: Melgen also paid for commercial flights for the senator to travel between New Jersey and West Palm Beach, Fla., according to the 2015 indictment.
  • $875 car service trip between Hoboken, N.J. and New York: Melgen hired the car to drive the senator in October 2008, according to the indictment.
  • 19 trips to a Caribbean villa: Menendez vacationed on numerous occasions between 2010 and 2013 at a Spanish-style villa Melgen owned in Casa de Campo, a luxury golf and sporting resort in La Romana, on the Caribbean coast of the Dominican Republic, prosecutors said. Melgen’s vacation home, which came with a private staff, featured a marina, three golf courses, 13 tennis courts, three polo fields, equestrian facilities, a 245-acre shooting facility, spas, beaches, restaurants and a hotel.
  • $4,900 luxury hotel stay in Paris: Melgen also picked up the tab for a 2010 trip the senator took to Paris with a woman he was dating at the time, including the cost of his three-night stay at the Park Hyatt Paris-Vendôme. In an email prosecutors showed jurors at trial, Menendez requested Melgen book him a room with a “limestone bath with soaking tub and enclosed rain shower, [and] views of courtyard or streets.”
  • $770 stay at an exclusive Dominican resort: According to prosecutors, Melgen again covered the cost in September 2010 when Menendez and a guest traveled to a wedding at the Tortuga Bay Hotel Puntacana Resort and Club in Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic.
  • $1.5 million in political contributions: Melgen and his family pumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into Menendez’s 2012 reelection in direct donations to the senator’s campaign and other entities and political action committees supporting his reelection. Prosecutors also accused Melgen of giving an additional $8,000 to the campaign of another U.S. senator at Menendez’s request. At the time, prosecutors said in 2015, Melgen was seeking Menendez’s assistance with an $8.9 million billing dispute the eye doctor was embroiled in with Medicare.
  • $20,000 contribution to his legal defense fund:Fighting off a recall effort in 2012, Menendez turned to Melgen with an email “humbly asking” for a $20,000 contribution to cover the cost of litigation. The eye doctor and his wife came through with a donation in the following weeks.
  • A private golf outing in West Palm Beach, Fla.: Prosecutors say Melgen covered the greens fees for a golf trip that he, his son-in-law and Menendez took to the Banyan Golf Club in January 2013.
  • Dinners at high-end restaurants: Prosecutors in the case filed against Menendez this month say he and Arslanian shared several pricey dinners between 2018 and 2019 — all paid for by representatives of Egypt and one of the couple’s codefendants, New Jersey businessman Wael Hana, who were trying to influence the senators’ stance on everything from foreign military financing to U.S.-Egypt trade policy.
  • A job for Arslanian: Hana hired Arslanian as a consultant to his halal meat certification company in March 2018 — a job in which prosecutors say she did little to no work. According to the latest indictment, Hana’s contract with the senator’s wife was meant as repayment for Menendez’s help in Washington on several matters pertaining to U.S.-Egypt relations
  • A $60,000 Mercedes-Benz C-300 convertible: Prosecutors say Hana and another New Jersey businessman, Jose Uribe, bought the car for Arslanian in April 2019 in exchange for her husband’s assistance in pressuring the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office on a pending criminal case that had been filed against one of Uribe’s business associates. Uribe allegedly handed the $15,000 down payment to Arslanian in a parking lot and went on to cover an additional $30,000 in car payments in 32 installments, according to the indictment. After the FBI began investigating in 2022, Arslanian returned $21,000 to Uribe in a check marked “personal loan,” prosecutors said.
  • $30,000 in mortgage payments on Arslanian’s apartment: Hana’s company paid Arslanian’s consulting company tens of thousands of dollars between August and November 2019 that prosecutors say was meant to cover overdue mortgage payments on her Bergen County apartment, prosecutors said. According to the indictment, the money was in exchange for Menendez’s help protecting a monopoly the Egyptian government had granted Hana’s firm to be the sole U.S.-based certifier of halal meat exports to the country.
  • Exercise machines and an air purifier: In early 2021, Hana allegedly sent exercise machines, an air purifier, and other items collectively worth thousands of dollars to Menendez’s Bergen County home.
  • Gold bars: Prosecutors say Hana purchased 22 one-ounce gold bars days before a June 2021 private meeting in which he and an Egyptian official met with Menendez to prepare for an upcoming hearing on Egypt’s human rights record. The FBI later found two of those gold bars — worth an estimated $1,800 each — during a 2022 search of Menendez’s home.
  • More gold bars: Prosecutors have also accused Menendez of accepting gifts of gold bars from New Jersey businessman Fred Daibes, who sought the senator’s help quashing a federal bank fraud case against him. According to the indictment, Daibes sent his driver to pick up Menendez and Arslanian after a trip to Egypt. The day after, Menendez allegedly Googled “how much is one kilo of gold worth” and investigators later found several gold bars whose serial numbers had been registered to Daibes in the Menendezes’ residence.
  • A trip to Egypt: Menendez and Arslanian traveled to Egypt in October 2021, a trip organized and paid for by Egyptian officials, prosecutors said.
  • A recliner: Daibes also allegedly sent Menendez a recliner in January 2022 while the case against him was still pending. The senator had sustained a shoulder injury. Daibes, according to the indictment, said he thought it would help Menendez sleep.
  • Cash-stuffed envelope and even more gold bars: Prosecutors said Daibes’ driver again met with Arslanian in January 2022, after which she immediately texted Daibes: “Thank you. Christmas in January.” Later, Menendez once again Googled the price of gold bars, the indictment says. And in June 2022, FBI agents discovered an envelope containing hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash in Menendez’s home. It had the driver’s fingerprints on it, prosecutors said, as well as Daibes’ DNA and return address.
  • Yet again, gold bars: Arslanian met with Daibes again in March 2022 as he was still seeking help with his case. She texted him to thank him afterward and the next day sold two one-kilogram gold bars — worth more than $120,000 — to a jeweler, the indictment states. Prosecutors say Arslanian falsely explained that the gold had come from her mother. According to the indictment, their serial numbers traced back to Daibes.
  • Even more checks, cash, and gold: In total, FBI agents say they found two one-kilogram gold bars and nine one-ounce gold bars — all with serial numbers traceable to Daibes — in Menendez’s home as well as 10 envelopes with thousands of dollars in cash — each found with Daibes’ fingerprints or DNA and some of them stuffed in a jacket hanging in Menendez’s closet and bearing the logo of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.