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Sen. Bob Menendez's corruption trial continues with more FBI testimony about search of home

Gold bars passed around to jurors in Sen. Bob Menendez corruption trial
Gold bars passed around to jurors in Sen. Bob Menendez corruption trial 03:41

A day after jurors held the one-kilogram gold bars seized from Sen. Bob Menendez's home in their own hands, they heard more from the FBI agent who led the search of the New Jersey Democrat's home in June 2022. 

Lawyers for Menendez continued questioning FBI agent Aristotelis Kougemitros on Friday. 

Kougemitros told prosecutors Thursday that his team mostly eschewed the "flashy" FBI trappings when they arrived at the split-level Englewood Cliffs home Menendez shares with his wife, Nadine, to execute a search warrant. 

"We came with unmarked vehicles, which we normally have, but we had less of them," he said. "We didn't have a large group, which we normally have for a search. We wore subdued markings that identify us. We were sensitive that we were searching the home and executing a search warrant of a United States senator." 

No one was home at the time of the search, so the group of agents typed in the code to the garage, where a black Mercedes-Benz convertible was parked, and entered the house, he said. The FBI agent noted they had to call a locksmith to open several doors in the house, including those to the primary bedroom and its closets.  

Kougemitros said the FBI was authorized to look for various items of value and seized 52 items from the home, including cellphones, gold, cash and jewelry. 

On the floor of one of the closets, they found a one-kilogram gold bar inside a Ziploc bag that had been wrapped in a paper towel, he testified. In the same closet they discovered a safe containing loose cash, envelopes of cash, seven one-ounce gold bars and another one-kilogram gold bar, according to Kougemitros. Cash was also found elsewhere in the house, he said, recalling finding $100,000 in a duffel bag and tens of thousands more inside boots and jacket pockets. 

"The amount of cash that we began to discover was so voluminous that I directed the team that we would no longer be photographing any of the cash; we would be seizing the cash, because I believed it was evidence potentially of a crime," he said. 

There was so much cash, the FBI agent said, that he called in reinforcements. Two FBI agents from Manhattan "brought two cash-counting machines," Kougemitros said. 

In total, the FBI seized 11 one-ounce gold bars, two one-kilogram gold bars and $486,461 in cash, he said. 

Assistant U.S. Attorney Lara Pomerantz repeatedly called attention to the cash and gold bars that were found in the couple's home in her opening statement on Wednesday, alleging they were given to the senator by New Jersey businessmen as bribes in exchange for political favors. 

On Thursday, while questioning Kougemitros, she showed the jury a photo taken during the search of an envelope that contained $7,400 cash. The envelope was embossed with Fred A. Daibes and an Edgewater, New Jersey, address. 

Menendez is being tried alongside Daibes, a New Jersey real estate developer, and Wael Hana, owner of the halal meat company IS EG Halal, who are both accused of bribing the senator. All three have pleaded not guilty. 

A third businessman who was indicted, Jose Uribe, pleaded guilty in March and confessed to buying Menendez's wife a $60,000 Mercedes convertible to influence the senator. Uribe will testify during the trial. 

On Thursday, Adam Fee, a lawyer for Menendez, sought to sow doubt about whether the senator had access to the primary bedroom closet where the safe and gold bars were found, questioning the FBI agent about the location of a blue blazer that prosecutors are connecting to Menendez.

On Wednesday, another attorney for Menendez, Avi Weitzman, said Menendez did not have a key to the closet. 

The government's second witness, Bret Tate, a Department of Agriculture official who was stationed in Cairo until 2019, testified about Egypt limiting the number of U.S. companies who were authorized to certify halal exports. 

During a break from witness testimony in the afternoon, Menendez stood in a nearly empty hallway and sang "Amazing Grace." 

Nathalie Nieves contributed reporting. 

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