New Jersey

NJ Sen. Robert Menendez Setting Up Legal Defense Fund Tied to Federal Investigation

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New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez is paying tens of thousands in legal fees and is now setting up a legal defense fund in connection with a federal criminal investigation, according to campaign finance records and a spokesperson for the senator. 

The new campaign filings come as the senator has been part of the focus of an ongoing corruption investigation being led out of the Southern District of New York. Campaign finance records show Menendez's campaign has spent about $200,000 to pay two law firms as well as a document search company.

Sources familiar with the matter have previously said that Menendez has been under criminal investigation in connection with a Weehawken meat company, IS EG Halal, that won an exclusive contract with the government of Egypt. Several sources have said owners of that company have given expensive gifts to the senator’s wife in the past. 

Lawyers for the company and a Menendez spokesman have denied any wrongdoing.

Investigators have sent out dozens of subpoenas, with sources familiar with the matter saying they are looking into whether Menendez used his position as chair of the Foreign Relations Committee – which oversees $2 billion in aid to Egypt – to help the New Jersey company get the exclusive contract.

In recent filings, the Menendez campaign reported paying $127,343 to the law firm of Winston and Strawn, and another $48,000 was paid to the law firm of Schetler and Oronato. Another 55,000 was paid to a document search firm Haystack.

NBC New York has learned dozens of subpoenas have gone out to businesses and individuals across New Jersey, including a halal company that oversees all halal food product imports into Egypt. NBC New York's Jonathan Dienst reports.

A spokeswoman for the Democrat declined to detail what the payments were intended for, but issued a statement saying Menendez "is confident that this official inquiry will be successfully closed, but as it is still unresolved he will be opening a separate legal defense fund so as not to drain any further campaign funds."

The law firms did not respond to requests for comment, with Winston and Strawn not returning NBC 4 New York's calls when asked if it was representing Menendez again in this latest criminal matter. Spokesmen for the FBI and US Attorney’s office also declined to comment on the ongoing investigation.

Dozens of federal grand jury subpoenas have been issued in the past several months as part of the ongoing federal criminal investigation involving several individuals in New Jersey and the powerful democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Robert Menendez, NBC 4 New York reported in October 2022.

A federal court filing at that time showed that in Nov. 2019, the FBI searched IS EG Halal headquarters and Hana’s residence. According to a filing by Lustberg, federal agents seized cellphones, computers, tablets, USBs, business documents, notepads, a photo album, $5,943 dollars in cash, jewelry and Hana’s passport.

According to filings not just by Lustberg but by two federal prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Southern District of New York, most of the seized items were returned to Lustberg on January 31, 2020.

Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was indicted in 2015 on federal corruption charges of illegally accepting favors from a Florida eye doctor, Salomon Melgen. That included flights on a private jet to stay at Melgen’s resort in the Dominican Republic, three nights at a five-star hotel in Paris, and more than $700,000 in political contributions for Menendez as well as the Democratic Party.

That case ended in a mistrial after jurors were unable to reach a unanimous verdict. Several jurors later told reporters that they believed the government’s evidence was not convincing.

Federal prosecutors decided in 2018 not to retry the senator.

Menendez is not up for re-election until 2024. He has served in the Senate since 2006 and previously served in the House.

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