The FBI says Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., tried to interfere in two criminal matters in exchange for payoffs — and now NBC New York has learned the names of three people he allegedly wanted to pressure.
According to numerous sources familiar with the matter, two of the people were trying to become the state’s U.S. attorney. The third was, at the time, New Jersey’s attorney general, sources said.
In an indictment, the three officials who were allegedly contacted are unnamed. But several sources said Menendez improperly reached out to the state attorney general at the time, the current U.S. attorney and the current Hudson County prosecutor.
Menendez is alleged to have contacted all three with the goal of trying to corruptly fix two criminal matters.
In 2019, Hudson County Prosecutor Esther Suarez wanted to be the next U.S. attorney for New Jersey, even though she had no federal law enforcement experience. Prosecutors said that around that time, Menendez was taking cash and gold bars from Fred Daibes, who faced federal bank fraud charges.
In exchange for cash and gold, prosecutors said, Menendez, New Jersey’s senior senator, wanted to recommend to the White House a U.S. attorney candidate “who Menendez believed could be influenced by Menendez with respect to Daibes’s case … to act favorably in Daibes’s case.”
One candidate Menendez put forward was Suarez. According to the indictment, Daibes believed Suarez “would likely be sympathetic to him.”
The indictment does not detail why Daibes believed Suarez would be beneficial, leaving questions about why Menendez appeared to back Suarez open.
“What’s troubling about all of this is that a criminal defendant like Daibes shouldn’t have any reason to believe that a candidate for the U.S. attorney’s office would be favorable to his case,” NBC legal analyst Danny Cevallos said.
In the end, Suarez did not get the nomination, in part after The Star-Ledger newspaper of Newark raised ethics concerns from her recent past. Suarez declined to comment for this article.
Phil Sellinger ultimately got the U.S. attorney’s post with Menendez’s support. But before that happened, while he was a candidate for the job, Menendez allegedly brought up the Daibes case — and no other case — with him. Federal prosecutors said Sellinger told Menendez he would most likely recuse himself from the Daibes bank fraud case. That is when Menendez, according to the indictment, sought out Suarez as a possibility.
The FBI also said defendant Jose Uribe gave a Mercedes to Menendez and his wife as he sought help with a criminal investigation into his associates being run out of the New Jersey attorney general’s office. In exchange, Menendez is alleged to have called Gurbir Grewal, then the state attorney general, directly about the matter.
Cevallos called that allegation troubling.
“It’s bad enough if it’s true that the senator contacted the New Jersey attorney general to get favorable treatment in an investigation for a friend of the senator’s, but it is particularly egregious if the senator was doing so because he was receiving gifts from that person being investigated,” Cevallos said.
Grewal — the director of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Enforcement Division — did not respond to requests for comment through a spokesperson. The current state attorney general said his office is reviewing the matters raised in the indictment.
Damian Williams, the U.S. attorney for New York, who is leading the bribery prosecution, has said there is no evidence any outcome of the two New Jersey criminal matters was affected by Menendez’s alleged efforts.
Menendez, his wife and the three businessmen deny any wrongdoing and have pleaded not guilty. Menendez continues to say he will fight the charges and stay in office.