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Bob Menendez ‘Entitlement’ Led to Cash, Gold Bribes, US Says

Bob Menendez arrives at at Manhattan Federal Court in New York City. (Spencer Platt/Photographer: Spencer Platt/Gett)

(Bloomberg) -- US Senator Bob Menendez acted with “entitlement” as he took bribes of cash, gold bars and a Mercedes Benz while promising to help businessmen and the nation of Egypt, a prosecutor argued to jurors Tuesday at his corruption trial.

Assistant US Attorney Paul Monteleoni portrayed the New Jersey Democrat as a meticulous organizer of several schemes that enriched him and his wife Nadine, who served as a key go-between to two businessmen also on trial, Wael Hana and Fred Daibes.

Acting carefully to cover his tracks, Menendez subtly pursued bribes for years while promising to use his power to help those who paid him, the prosecutor said during closing arguments at the trial in Manhattan federal court, which began eight weeks ago. 

Menendez acted with “the entitlement of someone who’s entrusted by the public with unimaginable power,” Monteleoni said. At the same time, Menendez was “trying desperately to pass the buck to the people who are close to him,” including his wife and staff, the prosecutor said.

FBI agents seized 13 gold bars and more than $486,000 in cash from the Menendez house, as well as a Mercedes convertible.

But Menendez attorney Adam Fee argued that prosecutors failed to prove the senator committed any crimes in a case where he’s accused of bribery, extortion, fraud, conspiracy, obstruction of justice and acting as a foreign agent of Egypt.

“Prosecutors have not come close to meeting their burden that any of the gold or cash was given to Senator Menendez as a bribe,” Fee said in his summation. He said prosecutors offered no credible evidence that Menendez took any official actions with corrupt intent.

“The simple truth is these actions were lawful, normal and good for his constituents and this country,” Fee said.

Fee also said prosecutors built a case on false testimony and unsupported inferences, arguing that an FBI agent reversed his testimony about the location of a Menendez blazer found in a June 2022 raid. 

While the defense lawyer acknowledged the unusual nature of the cash and gold stash, he stressed the innocent explanations the defense put forward at a trial where Menendez did not testify. 

“Who has that much cash in their house?” Fee said. “I would not blame you for having the immediate reaction that something must be fishy.” 

Still, Fee said Menendez had been taking $400 in cash out of the bank in regular intervals for 30 years, and his sister testified that their Cuban family had long held cash. 

“This is not a story that Bob came up with when this case was charged,” the defense lawyer said. “He had been doing this for a very long time.”

Fee argued that Menendez’s wife withheld information from him about her poor finances before they married in 2020, and that she often acted on her own, contrary to assertions by prosecutors. 

“The prosecutors’ story is that Bob controlled Nadine,” Fee said. “That is nonsense, based on this evidence.”

Fee will continue his summation on Wednesday, followed by closing arguments by lawyers for Hana and Daibes, as well as rebuttals by prosecutors. After legal instructions from the judge, jury deliberations may begin on Thursday. 

Monteleoni, citing numerous texts, emails, calls and bank records, argued Menendez committed multiple crimes. The prosecutor said Menendez corruptly helped Egypt to secure US military aid and sensitive information; protected an Egyptian monopoly that Hana secured to inspect meat bound for Egypt; influenced a federal indictment in New Jersey of Daibes; and swayed New Jersey criminal probes of people close to another businessman, who admitted he bribed the senator with a Mercedes.

“Menendez was smart and he was careful,” Monteleoni said. “He used his power and influence in subtle ways to try to help the people who were bribing him while not getting caught.”

Menendez, a three-term senator, has lost his political support in New Jersey and Washington since his indictment last September, and he says he’ll run as an independent in November. His wife, Nadine, was charged with him but will undergo a separate trial.

Multiple Schemes

But during more than five hours of arguments over the past two days, the prosecutor hammered Menendez over the details of several alleged schemes, including his efforts to help Jose Uribe, a businessman who pleaded guilty and testified as a prosecution witness. Uribe said he bribed Menendez to pressure New Jersey prosecutors to drop criminal probes against two people close to him.

The prosecutor reminded jurors of testimony about a dinner Menendez attended with Uribe, his wife and her daughter by a previous marriage. Uribe testified that the senator urged the women to go to the bathroom before telling Uribe: “I saved you’re a*s twice. Not once but twice.”

That exchange was “devastating evidence of Menendez’s culpability for the scheme,” the prosecutor said.

While defense lawyers attacked the credibility of Uribe, the prosecutor vouched for him and said reams of evidence support his account. He repeatedly said: “You know he was telling the truth.”

FBI agents traced $82,500 found in Menendez’s house to Daibes, primarily through fingerprint evidence. Monteleoni also said Daibes gave six one-kilogram gold bars to Menendez, and his wife sold four of them before an FBI raid in 2022.

The prosecutor also dismissed arguments by Menendez’s lawyers that the senator had no access to his wife’s locked closet, where FBI agents found cash and gold bars.

“There is zero reason to believe that Menendez was locked out of the closet of his own bedroom,” Monteleoni said. “This suggestion is absurd.”

The current case is US v. Menendez, 23-cr-490, US District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

(Updates with timing of closing arguments)

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