The wife of US Senator Bob Menendez pleaded not guilty to revised federal charges that accuse her of conspiring with her husband and a businessman to act as a foreign agent of Egypt, as well as receiving hundreds of thousands dollars in bribes.
(Bloomberg) — The wife of US Senator Bob Menendez pleaded not guilty to revised federal charges that accuse her of conspiring with her husband and a businessman to act as a foreign agent of Egypt, as well as receiving hundreds of thousands dollars in bribes.
Nadine Menendez entered her plea Wednesday in New York federal court, where she was charged last week in a revised indictment that added the foreign agent count to earlier bribery charges. Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, had court permission to skip the hearing because of Senate business in Washington. He’s scheduled to appear on Oct. 23 for his new arraignment.
Egyptian American businessman Wael Hana also pleaded not guilty Wednesday to the revised indictment, which accused him of the foreign agent conspiracy charge as well as bribery. Two other New Jersey businessmen, Fred Daibes and Jose Uribe, also pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to the bribery charges but don’t face the foreign agent count.
The charge is based on allegations in the original indictment last month that Bob Menendez, 69, abused his authority as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to help Egypt, including giving Egyptian officials “highly sensitive” information about personnel at the US embassy in Cairo.
The senator, who faces reelection next year, has said that “forces behind the scenes” are trying to “dig his political grave” and that he was simply doing normal work for constituents. He had also been indicted eight years ago in another federal corruption case. His 2017 trial ended in a hung jury and the judge declared a mistrial. Prosecutors later dropped the case rather than seek a new trial.
On Wednesday US District Judge Sidney Stein also denied a request by Hana to stop wearing an ankle bracelet that tracks his movements by GPS monitoring. Hana’s attorney, Lawrence Lustberg, had argued that the device, imposed as part of his $5 million recognizance bond, was “extremely uncomfortable and even painful.” Lustberg said Hana returned to the US from Egypt after his initial Sept. 21 indictment, and was not a risk to flee the country.
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But Assistant US Attorney Daniel Richenthal opposed the request, saying Hana’s situation has “markedly changed” since the revised indictment, giving him a new incentive to flee. He said Hana has a net worth of more than $25 million, and he has multiple commercial properties in Egypt and Uruguay. Hana also is “deeply committed to the Egyptian government, and specifically Egyptian intelligence officers,” the prosecutor said.
The judge sided with prosecutors, noting that Egypt doesn’t extradite its citizens for the charge Hana faces.
At the hearing, Stein also questioned Hana at length about the potential conflict of interest posed by Lustberg and his firm representing both Hana in New York and Daibes in a separate federal prosecution in New Jersey over alleged fraudulent bank loan applications. Daibes had pleaded guilty in that case but the federal judge in New Jersey recently rejected that plea.
Stein asked dozens of questions of Hana to ensure he understood that Lustberg and his partners owed a duty of loyalty and confidentiality to Daibes in New Jersey and to Hana in New York. Those duties could mean that Lustberg may not be able to represent Hana as vigorously as he could if he were free of conflict, the judge warned.
The judge also warned that prosecutors could call Lustberg as a witness in the New York trial set for May 6, which would mean the lawyer would have to step down. Hana said he understood the conflicts and wants to continue with Lustberg and his firm, Gibbons PC.
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