Senator Robert Menendez, his wife and three New Jersey businessmen accused of joining an alleged bribery and corruption scheme with the powerful head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee have all pleaded not guilty in a federal courtroom in Manhattan.
Mr Menendez has refused a growing number of calls from his Senate colleagues to resign after a grand jury indictment accused him of trading political favours involving the Egyptian government and agreeing to interrupt criminal investigations in exchange for cash, gold bars, a Mercedes-Benz convertible and other gifts.
The senator and his wife Nadine Menendez are charged with conspiracy to commit bribery, conspiracy to commit honest services fraud, and conspiracy to commit extortion under color of official right.
He was released on $100,000 bond and Ms Menendez was released on a $250,000 bond following an arraignment hearing on 27 September.
Wael Hana, who was arrested upon entering John F Kennedy International Airport after a flight from Egypt on Tuesday, also pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit bribery and conspiracy to commit honest services fraud. He was released on $5m bond after his arrest.
Co-defendants Fred Daibes and Jose Uribe have also pleaded not guilty on those charges.
Mr Menendez is facing his second federal corruption case within 10 years, after jurors failed to reach a verdict on separate allegations in 2017.
The alleged players include a New Jersey real estate developer who was previously convicted of fraud, an associate who also has separately faced fraud charges, and Mr Hana, a halal meat certification business owner who allegedly pursued a lucrative monopoly with the Egyptian government through Mr Menendez, who for years has chaired a critical Senate committee that steers American foreign policy and global financial aid.
Authorities seized $100,000 worth of gold bars and more than $480,000 in cash, mostly stuffed into envelopes and hidden in clothing and closets at their home, according to the indictment. Photographs in the indictment include jackets bearing Mr Menendez’s name and government seals stuffed with wrapped bills.
Mr Menendez and attorneys for his four co-defendants have all denied wrongdoing.
On 25 September, in his first public remarks since being accused of taking bribes and unlawfully wielding his influence in office, Mr Menendez said he had stored cash withdrawn from his personal savings account at his home.
The senator, surrounded by people he addressed as “everyday people and constituents” but no prominent political leaders, delivered his remarks in English and then in Spanish before leaving without taking any questions from reporters.