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Monday, July 8, 2024 | Back issues
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Senator Bob Menendez ‘showered’ in bribery payments, feds say in corruption trial closings

Prosecutors say in the ninth week of the Democrat senator's criminal trial that he had full knowledge of the payments his wife accepted from foreign governments.

MANHATTAN (CN) —  Senator Bob Menendez repeatedly engaged in “a clear pattern of corruption” by accepting bribes of cash, gold bars and lavish gifts in exchange for his promises of official acts, federal prosecutors told jurors Monday afternoon during their closing summation of the New Jersey politician's criminal conspiracy trial.

Echoing the same wording from the trial’s opening arguments, federal prosecutors said Menendez “put his power up for sale,” by accepting bribe payments from trio of New Jersey businessmen with ties to Egypt and Qatar who wanted the senator to exert his political power and influence, with his wife acting as a “go-between” for receiving the payments and gifts.

Menendez, the highest-ranking Latino member of Congress, faces 16 felony counts accusing him and his wife, Nadine Menendez of bribery, conspiracy, wire fraud, obstruction of justice, and acting as a foreign agent, among other charges.

Prosecutors told jurors that Menendez knowingly engaged in “corrupt quid pro quo” deals with those wealthy benefactors in exchange for official acts while he held the powerful post of chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and took efforts to conceal those illegal transactions.

“The timeline tells you what happened,” Assistant United States Attorney Paul Monteleoni said. “When Menendez hears that Nadine can get paid, Menendez springs into action again and again.”

During the prosecution's closing, Monteleoni directed jurors toward over $480,000 in cash, a dozen gold bars and a Mercedes Benz convertible found and seized by the FBI during a 2022 raid on Nadine’s Englewood Cliffs home.

Monteleoni also prompted jurors to look at a spreadsheet of Menendez’s WhatsApp messages and Google search history, which illustrated that the senator's online queries for the value of kilogram bars of gold — "for the first time in his life" — corresponded directly after meetings with co-defendant, Fred Daibes, a Garden State real estate tycoon with ties to Egypt and Qatar.

At trial, prosecutors said Daibes paid bribes to Menendez in exchange for making efforts to install a favorable U.S. attorney in New Jersey to take the heat off Daibes in an underlying federal bank fraud probe.

Prosecutors also claim Daibes delivered gold bars and cash to Menendez and Nadine in exchange for the senator’s help with a multimillion-dollar deal with a Qatari investment fund.

Menendez’s defense attorneys insisted during trial that Nadine — who began dating the senator in 2018 and married him two years later — kept him in the dark about her financial troubles and the assistance she requested from the businessmen.

Menendez claims the gold bars found by the FBI in Nadine’s home had been inherited from her Lebanese parents who purportedly left her gold bars and jewels as an inheritance, while the bundles of cash stashed around the house was actually from decades of innocuous cash withdrawals by Menendez due to his upbringing by Cuban immigrants in a household where storing large amounts of cash at home was normal.

Prosecutors urged jurors on Monday to not believe Menendez’s explanations about the gold bars, which they insist were from Fred Daibes.

“All the talk of Nadine having family gold is a distraction,” Monteleoni said. “There’s actually no evidence that Nadine had kilo bars of gold from her family.”

On more than one occasion, Menendez Google-searched the price of a kilogram bar of gold directly after meetings with Daibes.

“It’s not a coincidence, it’s a bribe,” Monteleoni said.

Prosecutors have also accused co-defendant Wael Hana of paying bribes to Nadine through a sham consulting job after the senator called a high-level U.S. Department of Agriculture official and pressured the agency to stop opposing Hana’s company's status as sole halal certifier for U.S. beef exports to Egypt amid monopoly concerns.

Menendez remained defiant against federal bribery charges on Monday afternoon, telling reporters outside of the courthouse that the prosecutors are "intoxicated on their own rhetoric."

Menendez’s defense rested their case last week after two days of witness testimony, with the senator ultimately opting against taking the stand himself.

Prosecutors will continue their summation Tuesday morning, followed by separate closing arguments from Menendez and each of his two co-defendants.

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.

Expecting to be exonerated on the bribery charges by this trial's verdict, Menendez is planning to run for re-election in the fall as an independent candidate.

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Categories / Criminal, Government, Politics, Trials

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