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, three people familiar with the matter tell NBC News.
An advisor for Menendez did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Nicholas Biase, a spokesperson for the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York declined comment.
Two people familiar with the matter say one of the entities involved in the investigation is IS EG Halal of Edgewater, New Jersey. According to the company’s website, “IS EG Halal is the only entity exclusively authorized by the Government of Egypt to certify Halal exports worldwide.”
Halal food products are the only food products Muslims are allowed to eat, according to their religious beliefs. Among the rules regarding halal foods, they are first and foremost not allowed to contain pork nor alcohol. Before IS EG Halal was given authorization to certify all halal food product imports, a terrorist organization known as the Muslim brotherhood oversaw certification for foods imported into Egypt, court documents state.
Lawrence Lustberg, an attorney for the founder and president of IS EG Halal, Wael Hana, says his client is aware of the government’s ongoing investigation “but he does not know what it is about.”
In a statement to NBC News, Lustberg said, “for some time now, he has asked the prosecutors to share with him their concerns so that he could respond to them and, in a spirit of cooperation, share with them his explanations with regard to those concerns.”
“Once he has the opportunity to do so, and the truth comes out, he is confident that the government will agree with him that he has done absolutely nothing wrong,” Lustberg said.
A federal court filing shows 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 US Attorney’s Office for Southern District of New York, most of the seized items were returned to Lustberg on January 31, 2020.
Lustberg added in a statement that based on his review of the evidence seized, he agrees with his client that Hana has committed no wrongdoing.
New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez on Wednesday acknowledged the existence of an ongoing federal investigation against him, more than four years after the government dropped a different corruption case. NBC New York’s Jonathan Dienst reports.
The court filings don’t specify why federal investigators conducted the search, and NBC News could not confirm whether or not the search was tied to the current investigation involving the senator. On Wednesday, Menendez advisor Michael Soliman said, “Senator Menendez is aware of an investigation that was reported on today, however he does not know the scope of the investigation.”
Soliman added, “As always, should any official inquiries be made, the senator is available to provide any assistance that is requested of him or his office.”
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.