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Gold bars and Sen. Bob Menendez's online searches take central role at bribery trial

Key witness on stand in Menendez trial
Insurance broker continues testimony in Bob Menendez trial 04:39

Prosecutors on Thursday showed jurors at Sen. Bob Menendez's trial multiple instances when he researched the value of gold as he tried to help a New Jersey businessman who authorities say bribed him with gold and cash.

The evidence about the New Jersey Democrat's online searches was prominently displayed to a New York jury as prosecutors traced the history of his text messages and internet queries as he allegedly tried to aid Fred Daibes, a prominent real estate developer who is on trial with him.

The evidence is considered crucial in the government's effort to prove that Menendez and his wife received gold bars, cash and a luxury car from 2018 to 2022 from three New Jersey businessmen who benefited from favors Menendez is alleged to have delivered in return.

Menendez, Daibes and another businessman and co-defendant, Wael Hana, have pleaded not guilty. His wife, Nadine Menendez, faces trial at a later date and is recovering from breast cancer surgery. She too has pleaded not guilty.

A third businessman pleaded guilty prior to trial and testified against the other defendants. The businessman, Jose Uribe, said he tried to bribe Menendez by paying for a Mercedes-Benz convertible for Nadine Menendez. In return, he said he wanted the senator to use his influence to stop criminal investigations into his business associates. 

The gold bars found in the home Menendez shared with his wife in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, took a prominent role early in the trial when an FBI agent described a 2022 search of the residence the senator moved into in 2020. 

The search found gold bars worth more than $100,000 and over $486,000 in cash, some stuffed in the pockets of coats hanging in closets, in bags and in shoes and boots. A Mercedes-Benz was parked in the garage. 

On Thursday, the topic of gold came up repeatedly as another FBI agent described internet searches Menendez conducted when he researched the price of gold in April 2019, twice in May 2021, again in October 2021, twice in December 2021, once in January 2022 and again in March and May 2022.

Among the searches, agent Paul Van Wie said, were instances when Menendez researched the worth of a gram, an ounce and a kilo of gold. The agent said a search of Menendez's internet history since 2008 showed that the senator had never searched for gold prices during that span until April 5, 2019.

Menendez's lawyers have said gold bars found in the home belonged to his wife and that she kept the senator in the dark about gifts she accepted when she was in financial trouble. 

Prosecutors sought to prove Thursday through emails, text messages and the online searches for the price of gold that Menendez was interested in gold as he allegedly sought to recommend a new federal prosecutor for New Jersey who could help Daibes get a favorable outcome in a criminal case against him.

The online searches also occurred as Menendez allegedly used his international clout to help Daibes secure a $95 million investment from a Qatari investment fund by taking actions favorable to Qatar's government.

Daibes has been credited with the construction of a string of luxury waterfront buildings, known as the "gold coast," in the New Jersey town of Edgewater.

Prosecutors showed the jury email and text correspondence Thursday reflecting that Menendez introduced Daibes to a member of Qatar's royal family who was a principal in the investment firm and also met with Qatari officials and made public statements supportive of Qatar as the real estate deal was being negotiated.

After the deal was signed in May 2022, Daibes gave Menendez at least one gold bar, prosecutors say. 

In the 2022 search of the Menendez home, FBI agents found two one-kilogram gold bars and nine one-ounce gold bars with serial numbers showing they had previously been possessed by Daibes, along with about nearly a dozen envelopes of cash with tens of thousands of dollars bearing the fingerprints or DNA of Daibes, according to the evidence shown to jurors. 

One of the one-kilogram gold bars was found inside a Ziploc bag that had been wrapped in a paper towel, an FBI agent testified at the beginning of the trial. In the same closet, the FBI discovered a safe containing loose cash, envelopes of cash, seven one-ounce gold bars and another one-kilogram gold bar, the agent said. 

Menendez's lawyers say the closet, which was locked, was his wife's and he did not have a key to it. 

In August 2021, according to evidence shown to the jury Thursday, Menendez used an encrypted messaging application to send Daibes the text of a press release in which he praised the government of Qatar, before texting Daibes: "You might want to send to them. I am just about to release."

When Menendez was charged last fall, he held the powerful post of chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a position he relinquished after he was charged. He has resisted calls, including from prominent Democrats, that he resign from the Senate and he recently announced that he's running for reelection as an independent. 

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