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Sunday, July 14, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Senator Bob Menendez rests defense case in federal bribery trial

Closing arguments will start Monday as the monthslong trial nears its end.

MANHATTAN (CN) — New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez declined to take the witness stand on Wednesday afternoon, concluding his defense against federal bribery and conspiracy allegations after two days of witness testimony.

Menendez, the highest-ranking Latino member of Congress, faces 16 felony counts accusing him and his wife, Nadine Menendez, of conspiring from early 2018 through 2023 to sell his official influence for gold bars, luxury gifts, and banded stacks of cash.

Speaking to reporters outside of the Manhattan federal courthouse on Wednesday evening, the senator said he believed that prosecutors “failed across the board” to meet their burden to prove his guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

“For me to testify and give them another chance to have, in essence, a second summation — go through the whole case again, and then go ahead and have a summation, and then have a rebuttal case at the end — is simply something that does not make any sense to me,” he said as he exited out of the courthouse.

Senator Menendez told U.S. District Judge Sidney Stein he had talked with his lawyers at length about the decision.

He has pleaded not guilty to bribery, fraud, extortion, obstruction of justice and acting as a foreign agent of Egypt.

The Southern District of New York courthouse in Manhattan will be closed Thursday and Friday for the Fourth of July federal holiday. Trial will resume on Monday for its ninth week with the conclusion of co-defendant Wael Hana’s defense case, followed by the prosecution’s closing argument.

Defense closings for Menendez and each of his two co-defendants are scheduled for the following day.

The senator has argued that the 13 gold bars investigators found stashed throughout his wife's Englewood Cliffs home belonged to her, and the $480,000 in cash they turned up was Menendez's legitimate savings that he kept out of banks due to a distrust of the banking system.

One prong of the bribery conspiracy accused Menendez of accepting cash and a Mercedes-Benz from Dominican-American insurance broker Jose Uribe in exchange for the senator exerting his political power to "stop and kill" a trio of looming state criminal investigations.

Uribe testified earlier in the trial that he and several others agreed to pay Nadine’s friend, Egyptian-American businessman Wael Hana, roughly $250,000 to get Menendez to help secure a more favorable outcome in the prosecution of Uribe’s associate, Elvis Parra, a trucking company owner who had been indicted for insurance fraud.

During deposition video shown to jurors on Wednesday morning as part of Menendez’s defense case, high-profile New Jersey white collar attorney Michael Critchley testified that Parra’s case did not require any external intervention to net a more favorable resolution from state prosecutors.

“I believe they believed they had a weak case,” he said in the prerecorded video questioning. “It was trending that way — the offers kept getting better and better.”

Critchley said he took the case, from which he was paid $250,000, because he believed the underlying insurance fraud claims should have been litigated via civil complaint, not by criminal indictment.

Menendez called nearly two dozen witnesses across two days during the trial’s penultimate week. Co-defendant Wael Hana is expected to call at most two witnesses, while real estate tycoon Fred Daibes mounted no defense case at all.

Earlier in the week, Menendez’s lawyers began his defense’s case with questioning of his older sister, who testified that cash and gold stockpiled in the senator’s wife’s home was consistent with their upbringing: Their parents, Cuban immigrants, fled the island in 1951 with only the cash hidden at home.

“It’s a Cuban thing, it’s normal,” Caridad Gonzalez said Monday. “They were afraid of losing what they worked so hard for because in Cuba they took everything away.”

“Daddy always said: ‘Don’t trust the banks. If you trust the banks, you never know what can happen. So you must always have money at home,’” she recalled.

Nadine Menendez, 58, was severed from her co-defendants’ May 2024 trial due to breast cancer requiring mastectomy surgery. She will face a separate trial later in the year.

The gold bar bribery scandal is Menendez’s second set of corruption charges in a decade. The lawmaker was indicted in 2015 in a similar scheme involving accusations of peddling political influence to help Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen in exchange for luxury vacations in the Caribbean and Paris, flights on the eye doctor’s private jet and hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions to organizations that supported the senator.

hung jury ended that trial two years later.

While Menendez announced in March he would not run for reelection as a Democrat, he filed paperwork in June to run as an independent candidate in November.

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Categories / Criminal, Government, Politics, Trials

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