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Did he take bribes or was he cheated on by his wife? Arguments underway in Menendez’s trial

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – MAY 14: U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) arrives for trial at Manhattan Federal Court on May 14, 2024 in New York City. Menendez and his wife are accused of extortion, obstruction of justice and taking bribes to grant favors to businessmen with connections to Egypt and Qatar after gold bars and hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash were found at his home. (Photo by David Dee Delgado/Getty Images)

After a slow start, Sen. Bob Menendez’s corruption trial reached warp speed Wednesday, with the defense team using opening arguments to blame his wife and ending the day by demanding a mistrial.

With twelve jurors and six alternates after two and a half days of questioning, the case began after lunch, with prosecutor Lara Pomerantz methodically laying out the 18-count indictment against Menendez — a Democrat and senior senator from New Jersey — and two of his fellow senators explained. defendants, businessman Wael Hana and Edgewater real estate developer Fred Daibes.

“For years, Robert Menendez abused his position to feed his own greed and keep his wife happy,” Pomerantz said. “Menendez put his power up for sale, and Hana and Daibes were more than happy to buy it.”

But defense attorney Avi Weitzman told the jury that there were “innocent explanations” for all of the prosecutors’ allegations, and he quickly got to what could be the crux of his defense: Menendez’s claim that his wife, Nadine, kept him in the dark held the gold bars, cash, luxury car and other bribes she allegedly took from Hana, Daibes and a third co-defendant Jose Uribe, who pleaded guilty in March.

“The real question for you is: What did Bob know?” Weitzman told the jury.

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Daibes and Hana are on trial along with Menendez, and their attorneys are expected to make their opening statements Thursday morning. Nadine Menendez was also charged, but U.S. District Judge Sidney H. Stein previously postponed her trial until July because she has a medical problem.

The senator’s wife

Despite her absence from the Manhattan courtroom, Nadine Menendez loomed large over the trial Wednesday, with both prosecutors and the senator’s defense team repeatedly referring to her and her role in a bribery scheme that prosecutors say dated back to 2018, when the couple started dating. and a year after Senator Menendez’s latest corruption trial ended with a hung jury.

Pomerantz painted her as the insulation Menendez placed between himself and his alleged benefactors, saying Nadine’s role as a go-between gave the senator plausible deniability.

“Menendez was careful when he committed crimes,” she said. “He was smart enough not to send too many texts. Instead, he let Nadine do it for him.”

However, Weitzman portrayed her as a greedy manipulator who took gold, cash and other bribes without her husband’s knowledge. The couple had separate finances, lived separately until April 2020 and have led largely separate lives since. FBI agents found all the gold bars in her locked closet, Weitzman said.

Although the 70-year-old senator knew his wife had gold bars, he believed they were an inheritance from her family, which had built a fortune in the Persian carpet trade, he added. Instead, he said, Nadine was always supported financially by other people, including a previous husband and by her wealthy family, and so she “tried to get money and property any way she could,” Weitzman said.

“I admit it stinks,” he said of what he called “the green and gold elephant in the room.”

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In addition to gold, investigators also found more than $400,000 hidden in envelopes, jacket pockets and shoes throughout the couple’s home. Weitzman attributed that hoarded money to the senator’s habit — forged after his family fled Cuba with nothing in the 1950s — of withdrawing between $400 and $500 a month for decades and keeping the money at home.

Prosecutors say the riches were corrupt payments for official actions that only a senator could deliver.

“Quid pro quo – this for that,” Pomerantz repeated during her opening remarks.

Prosecutors have accused Menendez of taking gold, cash and a no-show, a “sham job” for Nadine Menendez from her longtime friend Hana to help Hana gain a monopoly on the import of halal meat to Egypt.

“Hana didn’t really have any experience in this industry, but what he did have was a U.S. senator under his belt,” Pomerantz said.

In return, Menendez also provided sensitive information about U.S. Embassy staff in Cairo and even wrote a ghost letter from an Egyptian official to U.S. lawmakers who had kept millions in military service. weapons and aid to Egypt because of concerns about human rights abuses there, prosecutors allege.

Menendez also tried to disrupt the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s prosecution of Daibes in New Jersey and a fraud investigation by the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office involving Uribe, an insurance broker who was friends with Hana, prosecutors said.

In return, Uribe gave Nadine $15,000 in cash in a parking lot as a down payment on a $60,000 Mercedes Benz convertible and then continued making monthly payments for years, Pomerantz said.

“This was not politics as usual. It was politics for profit,” she said. “Robert Menendez was a United States Senator motivated by greed and focused on how much he could put in his own pocket and in his wife’s pocket.”

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Weitzman insisted the prosecutors were “wrong, dead wrong.”

Menendez did not take bribes and never acted as a foreign agent for any government, he said.

“The actions Senator Menendez took were actions on behalf of the voters,” he said.

His interactions with Egyptian and Qatari officials amounted to nothing more than him “acting in diplomacy on behalf of the U.S. government,” he added.

Weitzman urged jurors to keep Menendez’s long history of public service in mind. Menendez has served in the Senate since 2006, in the House of Representatives from 1993 to 2006 and before that in the New Jersey Legislature and Union City politics.

“He is an American patriot,” Weitzman said.

About that annulment

Stein rejected attorney Adam Fee’s argument that Pomerantz had tainted jurors during her opening statements by implying that Menendez agreed to publicly support Qatar to help Daibes secure an investment from a member of Qatar’s royal family in exchange for gold bars and cash.

Fee accused Pomerantz of violating Stein’s order that prosecutors not discuss the contents of a resolution supporting Qatar that Daibes allegedly urged Menendez to introduce to help him secure the investment.

“These are angels dancing on the head of a pin, Your Honor. They inject this case with that inference,” Fee said.

But after a heated back-and-forth between Fee and prosecutor Daniel Richenthal, Stein denied the annulment.

“There is no basis for it,” he said.

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The post Did he take bribes or was he duped by his wife? The arguments underway in Menendez’s trial first appeared on the New Jersey Monitor.

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