In late 2020, Sen. Bob Menendez met with Philip Sellinger, a private practice lawyer and former fundraiser for the senator, to assess his potential fit as the next U.S. attorney for the state of New Jersey and to discuss one case in particular.
If assigned, Sellers would take over a large prosecutor's office in the U.S., a position that comes with the power to bust mob bosses and go after corrupt public officials.
Federal prosecutors said Menendez was fixated on a less consequential matter: ensuring that the future prosecutor would act sympathetically toward a friend of his facing bank fraud charges.
Daibes, who is now in a sweeping corruption case brought against Menendez, his wife and multiple others, is now a key figure in the case. It alleges Menendez and his wife of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of cash, gold bars and a luxury car in exchange for a variety of favors, such as secretly aiding the government of Egypt in U.S. policy matters and interfering in three criminal investigations, including the one involving Daibes.
The sentencing indictment was unsealed Friday by a Manhattan federal grand jury, who said Daibes paid bribes, including envelopes stuffed with thousands of dollars in cash and gold bars worth more than $120,000.
Both Daibes and Menendez rose to popularity as leaders in the same stretch of urban communities across the Hudson River from Manhattan, where local politics and real estate have long been involved in favor-trading.
Daibes, who is renowned for his home base of Edgewater, New Jersey, just up the river from Union City, where Menendez was once mayor, is widely credited with creating a 'gold coast' of luxury high rises along the formerly industrial waterfront.
Daibes' cozy relationship with a number of Edgewater officials, who turned away rival developers from the community and approved his lucrative deals, according to lawsuits and a recent report by the New Jersey State Commission of Investigation.
The report found that Daibes rented a reduced apartment to Edgewater's mayor and provided several million dollars in revenue to a local councilman's business, while accruing development rights and reneging on promises to build affordable housing.
People who opposed Daibes faced reprisals, the government said. Edgewater's former mayor, James Delaney, testified that his political support evaporated when he complained about what he believed was a corrupt agreement between local officials and Daibes. He eventually didn't run for re-election in 2000, even though he won the election.
Bridget Delaney, his former wife, had spent 15 years working at Daibes in his restaurant, said the couple were effectively run out of Edgewater, ruining their lives.
In 2018, Daibes was charged with obtaining loans under false pretenses from a bank that he owned. The charges were serious, with the potential for years in prison.
Daibes was still in the awaiting trial in 2021 when Menendez, New Jersey's senior senator, played a crucial role in advising the new administration of President Joe Biden on potential candidates to become the top federal prosecutor in the state.
In January 2020, Menendez rejected sellinger as a candidate after their December 2020 job interview because the lawyer told him he would likely have to recusus himself from any case involving Daibes because of a previous matter in which he represented the developer.
After another candidate fell through, Menendez eventually recommended him for the job.
After sellinger was sworn in, the Department of Justice instituted him to step aside from the Daibes case and hand responsibility for it to another senior prosecutor. The indictment said that Menendez badgered both sellinger and the prosecutor who had been put in charge of Daibes, calling them several times.
Menendez asked one of his political advisors to let sellinger know he was upset with the Daibes case being handled, the indictment said.
During the months in 2022 when Menendez was trying to influence the handling of the case, Daibes arranged for Menendez's wife, Nadine, to be given two gold bars, each worth around $60,000, along with an envelope containing thousands of dollars in cash, the indictment said.
Sellinger and his senior prosecutor said investigators kept Menendez's attempts to influence the case from the team of lawyers handling the prosecution and took no steps to intervene.
In an email statement, the New Jersey U.S. Attorney's Office said that all activity related to that matter was handled properly according to the principles of federal prosecution.
Last year, Daibes admitted to his bank fraud case after a late trial, saying he was awaiting trial for his misdemeanor charge. Under the agreement, he would receive only probation, according to his lawyer. But his sentencing has been repeatedly delayed and is now scheduled to take place next month.