HomeTop StoriesProsecutors provide detailed information about Menendez's hoarded wealth

Prosecutors provide detailed information about Menendez’s hoarded wealth

A federal prosecutor spent several hours Thursday capturing cash, gold and other items that FBI agents found during a June 16, 2022, search of Sen. Sen.’s home. Bob Menendez‘s Englewood Cliffs house. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Take a look in Senator Bob Menendez’s closets and basement and you’ll discover that he’s secretly a slob, with his and his wife’s belongings strewn everywhere as if a typhoon just blew through.

But in 2022, that chaos hid something worse, federal prosecutors said Thursday: evidence of his corruption. Stuffed into coats and boots and into bags and boxes were 13 gold bars and $486,461 in cash, the fruits of five years of bribes that New Jersey’s senior senator and his wife extracted from three businessmen hungry for Menendez’s influence, they said. prosecutors.

On the fourth day of the Democratic senator’s corruption trial in Manhattan, prosecutor Lara Pomerantz spent several hours documenting the cash, gold and other items that FBI agents found during a June 16, 2022, search of the couple’s home in Englewood Cliffs.

Aristotelis Kougemitros, the FBI special agent who led the search, shared photos of the senator’s home and the hoarded riches, and Pomerantz gave the confiscated cash and gold, sealed in evidence bags, to jurors for inspection.

Investigators found so much money in envelopes — tied together in stacks or loose in bags — that they stopped photographing them and Kougemitros called for help, he testified. Two officers arrived with an automated cash register.

“The sheer number of bills we encountered was too large to count by hand,” he said.

On Thursday, Pomerantz and Kougemitros took so long to list all the loot searchers found around the Menendezes’ split-level home that U.S. District Judge Sidney H. Stein stood up to stretch his legs.

Menendez attorney Avi Weitzman told jurors as much on Wednesday that the senator’s wife, Nadine, took the money, gold and other bribes without her husband’s knowledge and hid much of it in her locked closet and the locked safe therein.

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The senator had a habit of keeping cash at home, rooted in his experience as the son of immigrants who fled Cuba with nothing, Weitzman added. Check the date of the money, he told jurors, saying they were older notes that had long been out of circulation, which would prove Menendez had collected them over decades.

On Thursday, Pomerantz clearly tried to deflate that defense. She showed seized stacks of hundred-dollar bills with the date of April 2022 on the bank’s tape. She told jurors that most of the money was found in the pockets of the senator’s coats and in bags in the common-access basement.

The closet in question became a point of contention, with Kougemitros insisting that investigators found Menendez’s navy blue blazer and men’s ties in the closet, suggesting it was a shared space.

But Adam Fee, a Menendez attorney, resisted the cross-examination, countering that the blazer was hanging on the back of the bedroom door and not in the closet, which he said belonged to Nadine alone.

The men’s ties? They belonged to a teenager who lived in the house, Fee said, pointing to the skulls and cheese-eating mice on several ties. Nadine Menendez had two children from a previous marriage, including a son named Andre.

Fee asked Kougemitros if he had ever seen the senator wear such bold ties.

“To be honest, I haven’t really looked at any photos of Senator Menendez wearing a tie,” Kougemitros responded.

In court, Menendez’s ties were patriotic, a different variation of red and blue every day.

Aside from the cash, all the gold bars the FBI seized were found in the closet, Fee said. Whoever put them there wasn’t concerned about their storage, photos showed. One was wrapped in a paper towel, placed in a resealable bag and left on the floor with other trash.

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In addition to the money, gold bars, jewelry, air purifier and fitness equipment that the couple allegedly accepted as bribes, the FBI photos show that the couple was fond of luxury brands, with bags from the brands Prada, Giorgio Armani, Burberry and more that can be seen in the photos.

Menendez listened to the testimony without much reaction, occasionally resting his cheek in his palm.

Criminalize friendship?

Before Pomerantz called Kougemitros as the case’s first witness, attorneys for Menendez’s two co-defendants — Wael “Will” Hana and Fred Daibes — made their opening statements.

Hana is an Egyptian-American businessman and longtime girlfriend of Nadine Menendez, who prosecutors say bribed the couple with gold and cash to help him gain a monopoly on the export of halal meat to Egypt, military weapons and aid to free Egypt and supply sensitive US governments. information to Egyptian officials.

Daibes is an Edgewater real estate developer who prosecutors say gave Menendez gold and cash to disrupt a bank fraud investigation into him by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Jersey and help him secure a lucrative investment from a member of the royal family from Qatar.

Attorney Lawrence Lustberg, who represents Hana, told jurors that prosecutors made innocent actions look sinister by criminalizing friendships, commercial success and advocating for country.

Hana had been close friends with Nadine Menendez for 15 years and gave her gifts out of friendship, Lustberg said. Gold is a gift that people, especially from the Middle East, like to give, he added.

“Will’s gifts became better as his business became successful,” Lustberg said.

Prosecutors say Hana also gave Nadine Menendez a low- or no-show job at his meat export company as a bribe. Lustberg admitted that Hana paid her three $10,000 checks to help him set up operations in other countries as his business grew. But she didn’t do the work, so “he fired her,” he added.

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“Ask yourself: Is this what a briber does?” said Lustberg.

Attorney Cesar de Castro, who represents Daibes, echoed Lustberg’s sentiment, saying prosecutors made the gift-giving “sensational.” This is the argument that Menendez and his friend and co-defendant, Salomon Melgen, made during their 2017 corruption trial, which ended in a hung jury.

“Investing in precious metals like gold is normal and common… gold is even sold at Costco,” De Castro said. “There is nothing criminal about being generous.”

Fee is expected to resume his cross-examination of Kougemitros on Friday. Prosecutors have indicated they plan to call an FBI agent to testify Monday about Menendez’s actions in Egypt.

A cancer diagnosis

While Menendez heads to Manhattan daily to fight his second corruption case in the past decade, his wife is dealing with a medical crisis at home that prompts Stein to postpone her trial until at least July.

On Thursday, as De Castro defended Daibes, Menendez’s Senate staff sent a statement revealing that Nadine Menendez has stage III breast cancer and will require a mastectomy, follow-up surgery and possibly radiation.

In the statement, Menendez said his wife decided to ask him to disclose her medical condition “as a result of continued press inquiries and reporters following my wife.”

“We are by obviously concerned about the severity and advanced stage of the disease,” he said in the statement. “We hope and pray for the best results. We ask the press and public to give her the time, space and privacy to manage this challenging health condition as she undergoes surgery and recovers.”

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The post Gold bars in bags and cash stuffed in boots: Prosecutors provide details of Menendez’s hoarded wealth appeared first on New Jersey Monitor.

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