In early 2019, Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey and his new girlfriend, Nadine Arslanian, have been using excessive.
He had averted a federal bribery conviction after his trial ended with a hung jury, and the couple had begun touring the world.
Mr. Menendez proposed to Ms. Arslanian that October in India with a grand gesture, singing “By no means Sufficient” from “The Biggest Showman” exterior the Taj Mahal. They married a 12 months later in a small ceremony in Queens and have been showered with presents from a dozen influential mates, together with the pinnacle of certainly one of New Jersey’s largest well being care techniques and a lawyer who would later grow to be the U.S. lawyer for the District of New Jersey.
The senator moved into his spouse’s modest split-level home in Englewood Cliffs, N.J., and so they have since attended two state dinners on the White Home, eating with the president of France and the prime minister of India.
However their whirlwind romance has taken a sudden darkish flip.
Mr. Menendez, the 69-year-old Democratic chairman of the Senate’s International Relations Committee, is below investigation by the Justice Division for the second time in lower than a decade. And this time, his spouse can be in prosecutors’ cross hairs.
The brand new inquiry, led by the U.S. lawyer’s workplace in Manhattan, seems to be centered not less than partially on the likelihood that both the senator or his spouse obtained undisclosed gifts from an organization run by a good friend of Ms. Menendez, and that these presents might need been given in trade for political favors, in line with two folks with data of the matter and subpoenas issued within the case.
Not like her husband, who took a seat on a New Jersey faculty board as a 20-year-old and rose to prominence in Hudson County’s famously sharp-elbowed political scrum, Ms. Menendez, 56, has lived a primarily non-public life.
She holds a grasp’s diploma in French language and civilization from New York College, however didn’t work exterior the house whereas elevating her two youngsters in Bergen County, N.J., in line with court docket information and longtime mates. She is described by mates, acquaintances and two former attorneys in a lot the identical method: social, good and extremely fashion-conscious.
She struggled financially after a 2005 divorce and even confronted foreclosures. However by 2020, the 12 months she and Mr. Menendez have been married, she had fashioned a global consulting firm, and her belongings included bars of gold bullion then valued at as a lot as $250,000.
Ms. Menendez, who’s represented by a Washington-based lawyer, now finds herself on the middle of an investigation that carries the danger of steep prison penalties and will alter the political enjoying area in New Jersey and in Washington as her husband prepares to run for a fourth time period subsequent 12 months.
The senator’s marketing campaign finance reviews underscore the gravity of the brand new federal inquiry. He has spent roughly $290,000 since January in reference to the investigation, federal election information present, and final month he created a brand new defense fund to keep away from additional draining his political accounts.
The senator has mentioned that he anticipated the inquiry could be “efficiently closed.” His workplace didn’t reply to requests for added remark.
A halal monopoly
The complete scope of the federal inquiry, together with Ms. Menendez’s function, stays unknown. However the investigation seems to focus not less than partially on the couple’s connection to a 40-year-old New Jersey businessman, Wael Hana, who has recognized Ms. Menendez since earlier than she began courting the senator.
She and Mr. Hana have been a part of a gaggle of mates who regularly socialized at eating places in northern New Jersey; a few of them shared an affinity for Cuban cigars. A number of members of the community have obtained subpoenas, in line with a good friend who was interviewed by prosecutors and attorneys representing different folks within the case.
Mr. Hana started working a start-up firm, IS EG Halal, in New Jersey in 2019, and it quickly grew to become the only entity licensed to certify that any halal food product imported into Egypt from wherever on the planet had been ready in line with Islamic regulation.
It was an unlikely growth, provided that Mr. Hana, a United States citizen born in Egypt, has mentioned in court docket papers that he had no prior expertise within the halal trade.
Earlier than 2019, four companies in the United States had divvied up the work of guaranteeing that meat exported to Egypt was free from components prohibited by Islamic regulation and met strict processing requirements, in line with the U.S. Division of Agriculture.
The choice to offer authorization solely to 1 firm didn’t require United States approval. But it surely was an abrupt pivot by the federal government of Egypt, and news stories on the time chronicled how the steep new charges for certification have been anticipated to result in greater meat costs in a rustic that’s dwelling to 90 million Muslims.
In November 2019, the F.B.I. searched Mr. Hana’s dwelling and places of work. Investigators seized computer systems, cellphones, Mr. Hana’s passport and “each single piece of paper” within the firm’s headquarters, Mr. Hana’s lawyer, Lawrence S. Lustberg, mentioned in a court docket submitting. Mr. Hana was not charged, and Mr. Lustberg, within the submitting, mentioned that his shopper was advised he was not a goal of the investigation.
Federal prosecutors and the F.B.I. at the moment are investigating whether or not the senator or Ms. Menendez obtained a luxury car or an apartment in Washington from Mr. Hana’s firm. It’s, nevertheless, unclear which, if any, of Mr. Menendez’s official acts as a senator is below scrutiny by prosecutors.
Mr. Hana’s spokeswoman, Ellen Davis, has mentioned that he received the halal enterprise with out help from any U.S. public official. “Allegations about vehicles, residences, money and jewellery being supplied by anybody related to IS EG Halal to Senator Menendez or his spouse in any respect — not to mention in trade for any form of favorable therapy — are completely with out foundation,” she mentioned in Might. She declined further remark.
The investigation has reached in different instructions as properly.
Prosecutors have requested for any correspondence from Ms. Menendez, Senator Menendez or a outstanding New Jersey developer, Fred Daibes, a few invoice that has stalled in Trenton, in line with an individual acquainted with a subpoena issued in Might to State Senator Nick Sacco who was not licensed to discuss it publicly.
The laws would restrict the peak of buildings close to the Palisades alongside the Hudson River and will have scuttled a skyscraper complicated at 115 River Street in Edgewater, which Mr. Daibes has been planning to build for years.
Mr. Daibes, whose firm owns the constructing the place IS EG Halal has its headquarters in Edgewater, pleaded guilty to an unrelated federal bank-fraud charge final 12 months; his sentencing, which is anticipated to outcome solely in probation, was just lately rescheduled for the fourth time.
Mr. Lustberg, who additionally represents Mr. Daibes within the bank-fraud case, mentioned the brand new Oct. 26 sentencing date shouldn’t be interpreted to imply that his shopper was cooperating with prosecutors. “Fred Daibes just isn’t cooperating with the authorities towards Senator Menendez or anyone else,” Mr. Lustberg mentioned.
A shared trigger, and pancakes
Mr. and Ms. Menendez first met years ago at certainly one of his well-known haunts — an IHOP in Union Metropolis, the place he was as soon as mayor. They started courting in late 2018.
They shortly discovered frequent trigger: a want for the US authorities to formally acknowledge the Armenian genocide, a brutal marketing campaign by the previous Ottoman Empire that killed 1.5 million folks, together with a number of of Ms. Menendez’s relations.
In 2019, after a decade-long effort, Mr. Menendez succeeded in getting the Senate to approve a resolution acknowledging the deaths as genocide, a step that paved the way in which for President Biden’s formal recognition of the bloodbath two years later.
“When he handed it, I had tears of pleasure,” Ms. Menendez mentioned in a 2020 interview with “The Armenian Report,” an English-language podcast.
“Folks ask me, ‘What’s the following factor? What are you pushing him to do, backing him as much as do? What would you wish to see?’” she added. “For me, the one and solely factor I needed was the popularity of the Armenian genocide.”
Ms. Menendez didn’t reply to requests for remark. However on the podcast she defined that she was born in Lebanon to Armenian mother and father, who fled in the course of the Lebanese civil war. They emigrated to the US when she was a toddler, ultimately settling in New York.
Court docket information and interviews along with her former attorneys, acquaintances and longtime mates present that the years after her divorce have been a time of authorized tumult and monetary uncertainty.
She relied primarily on alimony and child-support, and at one level picked up part-time work as a hostess at a New Jersey restaurant, mentioned Douglas Anton, a lawyer who represented Ms. Menendez in a number of previous authorized issues, together with a dispute over her ex-husband’s month-to-month funds and a lawsuit towards an insurance coverage firm.
Mr. Anton, who dated Ms. Menendez earlier than her relationship with Mr. Menendez started, recounted being struck by her sharp intelligence and feeling pissed off that she had not pursued a profession.
“Only a good girl,” Mr. Anton mentioned. “Her abilities have been being wasted.”
In 2014, after having bother paying the $1,897 month-to-month mortgage on the house she now shares with Mr. Menendez, she enrolled in a federal program that lowered her funds, court docket information present. By June 2019 she had did not make even the decrease funds for six months, and Freddie Mac had begun foreclosures proceedings.
Simply because the foreclosures started, Ms. Menendez based her personal consulting enterprise with the assistance of certainly one of her soon-to-be-husband’s shut mates. It was the beginning of a drastic enchancment in her funds.
State information present that Ms. Menendez’s enterprise, Strategic Worldwide Enterprise Consultants, was included on the night time the mortgage firm started foreclosures proceedings. The easy, one-page type creating the restricted legal responsibility firm was faxed to New Jersey’s Division of Treasury by a regulation agency run by Donald Scarinci, who testified in the course of the senator’s bribery trial in Newark.
The corporate is run solely by Ms. Menendez from her dwelling, in line with state information, and doesn’t have a web-based footprint or telephone quantity. It seems on Mr. Menendez’s required monetary disclosure reviews as a result of they’re married, however little else in regards to the nature of the agency is understood.
Mr. Scarinci declined to remark.
The foreclosures was dismissed two months later after a part of the debt was repaid and the mortgage was reinstated, in line with a consultant on the regulation agency that dealt with the foreclosures continuing.
Then, a 12 months and a half after their marriage, Mr. Menendez amended a 2020 financial disclosure form to incorporate a brand new asset belonging to his spouse: bars of gold bullion value as a lot as $250,000.
It’s unclear how she got here into possession of the gold, and in late June Mr. Menendez filed one more amended report, noting that his spouse had offered between $200,000 and $400,000 of the bullion.
David Schertler, Ms. Menendez’s lawyer, declined to remark.
A large internet
Proving that elected leaders accepted presents or favors in trade for an official act has solely gotten tougher within the 5 years since Mr. Menendez’s 2017 federal bribery trial, after a collection of Supreme Court rulings narrowed the definition of what kind of conduct can function the idea for a corruption prosecution. Prosecutors from the Southern District of New York have seemingly forged a large internet, issuing subpoenas in phases because the investigation broadened.
A spokesman for the Southern District declined to remark.
Regardless of the investigation, Mr. Menendez has steadily raised funds to run for re-election, and he has remained a vocal presence in Washington and in New Jersey.
“I do know Bob to be an actual respectable, trustworthy man, who I take into account to be an excellent good friend,” mentioned Mark J. Sokolich, the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, N.J.
He mentioned he didn’t know Ms. Menendez as properly however had frolicked with the couple socially.
“Very good, very nice,” he mentioned earlier than providing an instance of a typical trade.
“‘Hey, Nadine. Hey, Mark.’ A bit cordial kiss. ‘How’s the climate?’ However not halal meat, or no matter this freaking factor is about.”
Kirsten Noyes contributed analysis.