If there’s any indication that things are getting serious for New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez (D.), it’s the lawyer he and his wife have retained as counsel.
Considered one of the best criminal defense attorneys in the country, David Schertler has represented all walks of elite life: an NFL player caught with a gun, military officials involved in shady lobbying, a high-profile murder suspect. Now, Schertler represents Menendez's campaign and his wife, the subjects of a multiyear Justice Department probe.
"When you’re in a situation such as Menendez, you’re not necessarily going to a big firm," one veteran Washington, D.C., attorney told the Washington Free Beacon. "Hiring Schertler means you’re going to the mat."
After years of investigations, reports surfaced last month that Menendez could soon face an indictment related to allegations that his wife took gifts from an Egyptian meat exporter in exchange for political favors. The looming indictment comes after years of corruption allegations against Menendez, who skated by with a mistrial in 2017 after the Justice Department indicted him on charges of bribery, fraud, and making false statements.
Menendez’s decision to retain Schertler signals that he’s gearing up for a fight—and getting nervous.
"You basically don’t call him unless you’re in deep shit," said the veteran D.C. attorney, who represents politically connected clients.
Schertler’s services won’t come cheap: Legal insiders believe he charges as much as $1,500 an hour. That price tag may explain why both Menendez and his wife sold up to $400,000 in gold bullion in April, precious metal holdings that Menendez did not disclose until March. Financial disclosures show Menendez’s campaign paid Schertler nearly $50,000 in February alone.
Schertler, a former U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, bills himself as a "premiere white-collar criminal defense attorney." But the case that made him famous involved a different type of collar altogether.
In 2006, Shelter defended Dylan Ward, one of the three men implicated in the grisly murder of Robert Wone. Wone and Ward were rumored to be romantically involved with Joseph Price, one of the owners of the DuPont Circle townhouse where the 32-year-old attorney died.
The Wone murder shocked the nation’s capital and stumped the D.C. police department, who needed to bring in an expert consultant to investigate the shocking amount of sex toys found at the townhouse. In 2010, the Washington City Paper reported that authorities discovered at the townhouse "arm restraints, black hoods, collars, gags," an electrocution device, and something called "the gates of hell," so named for the "discomfort created" when attached to a penis.
Police determined Wone was "restrained, incapacitated and sexually assaulted" prior to his murder, and alleged that the crime scene had been tampered with. Schertler's client and the other men found at the scene were charged with obstruction of justice and conspiracy, but not with the murder. Wone’s killer was never found.
The case put Schertler and his cunning legal skills on the map, and helped him rise to become one of the nation’s most sought-after defense attorneys. He has taken on a number of high-profile clients since. Then-Indianapolis Colts safety Joe Lefeged, hired Schertler in 2013 after he was arrested for fleeing the police under the influence of drugs with a loaded handgun in his car.
Schertler secured Lefeged’s freedom immediately after the arrest, even as prosecutors pleaded for the judge to deny him bail. Lefeged was signed to the Jacksonville Jaguars less than six months after his release.
Five years later, Schertler represented disgraced currency trader Chris Ashton after he was accused of rigging the multitrillion-dollar foreign exchange market. Ashton was found not guilty in the fall of 2018.
Schertler recently represented Marine Gen. John Allen, who was investigated by the Department of Justice for potentially illegally lobbying on behalf of Qatar amid its faltering diplomatic relations with neighboring countries. According to an FBI affidavit, Allen traveled to Qatar to meet with top officials and promoted Qatari interests before the White House and Congress, in defiance of foreign lobbying laws. Federal authorities said in January that it ended its investigation into Allen and would not bring charges.
Neither Menendez nor Schertler responded to a request for comment.