NEW YORK, Sept 27 (Reuters) – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to charges of taking bribes from three New Jersey businessmen, amid growing calls for his resignation from fellow Democrats.
Federal prosecutors in Manhattan last week accused Menendez, 69, and his wife of receiving gold bars and hundreds of thousands of dollars in exchange for the senator. The senator used his influence to aid the Egyptian government and interfere with law enforcement investigations of businessmen.
Menendez entered the plea through his attorney, Seth Farber, at a hearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Ona Wang in Manhattan.
Menendez may be released on a $100,000 personal recognizance bond, Wang said. A senator must surrender his personal passport but may retain his official passport and travel abroad on official business.
Dressed in a pin-striped suit, Menendez smiled and chatted with his attorneys after the hearing before being led out of the courtroom by U.S. Marshals. After leaving the courthouse, Menendez and his wife of 56 years, Nadine Menendez, walked past dozens of reporters and got into a black car without answering questions.
The senator’s wife and businessmen Jose Uribe, 56, and Fred Taibes, 66, also pleaded not guilty. Nadine Menendez was released on $250,000 bond, while Uribe and Daibes were released on $1 million and $2 million bonds, respectively.
A third businessman, Wale Hana, 40, pleaded not guilty Tuesday and was released on $5 million bond.
All the defendants are scheduled to make their first appearance Monday before U.S. District Judge Sidney Stein, who is overseeing the case.
Menendez, one of two senators representing New Jersey, stepped down as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in accordance with his party’s rules. But on Monday he said he would stay in the Senate and fight the charges.
More than half of all Democratic U.S. senators — including Cory Booker, the junior senator from New Jersey — have called for the resignation of Menendez, a powerful voice on foreign policy who has at times bucked his own party, since the charges were released Friday. Senator Dick Durbin joined fellow Senate Democrats in urging Menendez to step down on Wednesday, saying on X, formerly known as Twitter, that he believed the lawmaker could no longer serve.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Menendez will address Senate Democrats on Thursday.
“For senators, there is a very, very high standard. When you read the indictment, Senator Menendez fell below that standard,” Schumer said.
Democrats control the 51-seat Senate, including three independents who usually vote with them, while Republicans hold 49. New Jersey Gov. Bill Murphy, a Democrat who would be appointed as an interim replacement if Menendez withdraws, has called for his resignation.
The indictment included pictures of gold bars and money investigators seized from Menendez’s home. Prosecutors say Hana arranged meetings between the senator and Egyptian officials – pressuring him to sign military aid – and in return put his wife on the payroll of a company he controlled.
The hearing marks the third time Menendez has been investigated by federal prosecutors. He was never punished.
Reporting by Luke Cohen in New York; Additional reporting by Andrew Goudsward and Rami Ayyub in Washington; Editing by Scott Malone, Timothy Gardner and Jonathan Otis
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