According to a report by NBC, U.S. Senator Robert Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey (and a well-known critic of Bitcoin), has been formally charged with bribery. The charges stem from allegations that Menendez and his wife, Nadine Menendez, accepted significant sums of money, gold, and other benefits as part of an unethical relationship with three businessmen in New Jersey. These charges come after years of Menendez criticizing cryptocurrencies for their potential to facilitate criminal activities and help foreign entities evade U.S. sanctions.

Per the NBC report, the indictment, released last Friday, states that from at least 2018 through 2022, the Menendez couple accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes. In return, Menendez allegedly leveraged his political power and influence for personal and third-party gains. Federal prosecutors claim that Menendez assisted three businessmen—Wael Hana, Jose Uribe, and Fred Daibes—in various ways, including providing sensitive U.S. government information that also benefited the Egyptian government.

One specific allegation is that Menendez used his political influence to halt a criminal investigation in New Jersey against Jose Uribe. Additionally, he is accused of protecting an Egyptian business monopoly that was granted to Wael Hana by the Egyptian government, which was partially responsible for the bribes he allegedly received.

In response to the charges, Menendez issued a statement denying all allegations, stating that he remains committed to his work and will not be sidetracked by unfounded claims. The senator is currently facing three federal charges: conspiracy to commit bribery, conspiracy to commit honest services fraud, and conspiracy to commit extortion under the color of official right. If found guilty, he could face a prison sentence of up to 20 years.

The indictment also revealed that a search warrant executed in June 2022 led to the discovery of over $500,000 in cash, a luxury vehicle, and more than $100,000 in gold bars at Menendez’s residence and a safe deposit box. Prosecutors are now seeking the forfeiture of these assets.

In October 2017, Senator Menendez sent a letter to the Acting Director of the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) posing a series of questions around the Trump Administration’s efforts to prevent the use of cryptocurrency and digital payment systems such as Bitcoin for ransom in future cyber-attacks.

The Senator’s letter came after cyber thieves demanded Equifax pay them 600 Bitcoin in exchange for deleting the stolen personal information of over half the U.S. population. The widespread cybersecurity breach exposed consumer’s birth dates, addresses, credit card information and Social Security numbers began in March 2017 and lasted through the end of July 2017 when the credit reporting agency discovered it. 

The senator wrote:

Because of the anonymous nature of bitcoin transactions, the digital currency is an ideal choice for criminal … The Internet presents a formidable obstacle to law enforcement, with new bad actors constantly replacing those who have been apprehended. Nonetheless, we have a responsibility to do everything within our power to remain vigilant and prevent harm wherever possible.

In May 2023, U.S. Senators Jim Risch and Robert Menendez, who serve as the ranking member and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, reintroduced the Accountability for Cryptocurrency in El Salvador (ACES) Act. This legislation mandates a State Department report to assess the implications of El Salvador’s adoption of Bitcoin on bilateral economic relations and law enforcement cooperation. The ACES Act aims to evaluate the risks associated with cybersecurity, economic stability, and democratic governance in El Salvador.

Featured Image via Midjourney