Bob Menendez has faced potentially career-ending federal bribery allegations before and emerged unscathed — a fact that New Jersey’s senior U.S. senator touted Monday in his first public remarks on the indictment filed against him last week.
“Prosecutors get it wrong sometimes. Sadly, I know that,” the three-term Democrat said at a news conference in Union City, New Jersey, referring to a 2017 corruption trial that ended with a hung jury and the Justice Department opting not to retry the case.
But despite Menendez’s vows to fight the new charges, legal experts say that this case bears marked differences from last time and that building a defense may present a much more daunting task.
From the apparent strength of the evidence — including photos of alleged bribes of gold bars and cash stuffed in a jacket in the senator’s closet — to extensive communications detailing the alleged bribery schemes, prosecutors appear to have learned from the last trial and returned with a stronger case.
“The complexion of this whole thing is different from top to bottom,” said Eric L. Gibson, a former trial attorney in the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section and partner at the Philadelphia law firm Post & Schell, who, like other legal experts quoted in this article, is not involved in the current Menendez case. “I would be drooling over this if I were still a federal prosecutor. … I just don’t see how they push back against this in a credible fashion.”
The 39-page indictment accuses Menendez and his wife, Nadine Arslanian, of accepting bribes worth hundreds of thousands of dollars — including the gold bars, mortgage payments on Arslanian’s Bergen County apartment, and a 2019 Mercedes Benz — from three New Jersey businessmen seeking to buy the senator’s influence.
Prosecutors say they have thousands of text messages and email communications between the couple and their codefendants detailing quid pro quo agreements on everything from U.S. policy toward Egypt to Menendez offering the executives help with pending criminal cases against them.
“Anytime you need anything, you have my number and we will make everything happen,” Arslanian texted one Egyptian official seeking Menendez’s influence in a 2020 dispute over the building of a dam in Ethiopia, according to the indictment.
Texts and emails could make case against Menendez stronger than the last
Those communications records could present one of the strongest differences between this case and the one Menendez faced in 2017, said Henry E. Hockeimer Jr., chief of white-collar defense at the Philadelphia law firm Ballard Spahr.
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