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Sen. Bob Menendez "put his power up for sale," prosecutors say in closing arguments of bribery trial

Sen. Bob Menendez federal bribery trial continues in Manhattan
Sen. Bob Menendez federal bribery trial continues in Manhattan 03:28

A prosecutor accused Sen. Bob Menendez in a closing argument at his bribery trial Monday of putting his power up for sale to benefit three New Jersey businessmen who allegedly bribed him with gold and cash.

The presentation by Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Monteleoni, which will continue Tuesday, prompted the New Jersey Democrat to scoff as he left the courthouse, saying: "The government is intoxicated with their own rhetoric."

Minutes earlier, Monteleoni urged the Manhattan federal court jury to follow a trail of hundreds of emails and text messages between the businessmen, Menendez and his wife to see the alleged link between the businessmen and stacks of cash, gold and a Mercedez-Benz convertible that investigators found in the couple's home in June 2022. 

He said they'll also be able to match fingerprint evidence linking the businessmen and Menendez to the bribes, including fingerprints on the tape that bound thousands of dollars in cash hidden in coat pockets, boots and boxes inside the Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, home owned by his wife, Nadine Menendez.

Criminal Trial For US Senator Bob Menendez
Senator Robert Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey, arrives at federal court in New York City on July 8, 2024. Jeenah Moon/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Monteleoni said the senator "put his power up for sale."

The prosecutor said it wasn't enough that the senator was one of the most powerful people in Washington as the ranking member and later the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where he could block or approve hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid to nations such as Egypt.

"He also wanted to use it to pile up riches for himself and his wife," Monteleoni said.

Monteleoni's closing as the trial enters its ninth week in Manhattan federal court was about half finished when court concluded for the day.

As he left the courthouse, Menendez mocked the prosecutor's closing, saying the government had "spent two hours on charts, not witnesses that came before the jury." He added that Monteleoni had spent "two hours telling jurors about what they believe conversations should be that they never heard."

Monteleoni said there was a clear pattern of corruption and told jurors to closely review communications between the senator, his wife and the businessmen to see evidence of bribes along with proof that they were trying to cover up their schemes.

Monteleoni said defense claims that gold in the house had mostly been inherited by Nadine Menendez was belied by serial numbers on gold bars which showed they had come from the businessmen who paid bribes.

"All this talk about Nadine having family gold is a distraction," he said.

In return for bribes, prosecutors say, the senator took actions from 2018 to 2022 to protect or enhance the business interests of the businessmen — including pressuring a U.S. Department of Agriculture official to protect a halal certification monopoly Egypt granted to a New Jersey businessman, Wael Hana, and attempting to influence a federal prosecution of another New Jersey businessman, Fred Daibes. 

Senator Menendez Trial Continues In New York City
Wael Hana arrives for trial at Manhattan Federal Court on June 11, 2024, in New York City. Michael M Santiago / Getty Images

Menendez, Hana and Daibes have pleaded not guilty and are on trial together. A third New Jersey businessman, Jose Uribe, pleaded guilty in the case and testified against the others during the federal trial, the second the senator has faced in the last decade. None of the defendants testified. 

An earlier trial against Menendez in New Jersey ended in 2017 with a deadlocked jury. After the charges were lodged last fall, Menendez was forced to give up his powerful chairmanship of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Nadine Menendez is also charged in the case, but her trial has been postponed until August while she recovers from breast cancer surgery. She also has pleaded not guilty. 

As part of his defense, Menendez's lawyers have argued that tens of thousands of dollars in cash found in the senator's boots and jackets resulted from his habit of storing cash at home after hearing from his family how they escaped Cuba in 1951 with only the cash they had hidden in a grandfather clock. 

His lawyers have also asserted that Nadine Menendez, who began dating the senator in 2018 and married him two years later, kept him in the dark about her financial troubles and assistance she requested from the businessmen.

Menendez has held public office continuously since 1986, serving as a state legislator before serving 14 years as a U.S. congressman. In 2006, then-Gov. Jon Corzine appointed Menendez to the Senate seat he vacated when he became governor.

Several weeks ago, Menendez filed to run for reelection this year as an independent.

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