Menendez Put ‘Power Up for Sale’ to Aid Businessmen, US Says

(Bloomberg) -- US Senator Bob Menendez corruptly accepted bribes of gold, cash and a Mercedes Benz for using his power to help businessmen and to serve as a foreign agent of Egypt, a prosecutor told jurors Monday at the end of his two-month trial.

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Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, illegally enriched himself and his wife, Nadine, after he “put his power up for sale,” Assistant US Attorney Paul Monteleoni said during closing arguments in New York federal court. Nadine Menendez also was charged in the case, but will be tried later.

“You’ve heard how a sitting US senator took hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes from two businessmen for promises to take action to protect them,” Monteleoni said. “The pattern was the same — Menendez was in charge, and his wife Nadine was the go-between.”

The senator is on trial with two businessmen — Fred Daibes, an influential New Jersey developer, and Wael Hana, an Egyptian American businessmen. Menendez, 70, also is accused of abusing his post as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to help Egypt secure military aid and gain access to sensitive US information.

FBI agents seized $486,000 from the Menendez home, as well as 13 gold bars. Menendez’s lawyers say the cash represented money he regularly withdrew from the bank over the past 30 years, and that the gold bars came from his wife’s wealthy family in Lebanon.

Lawyers for Menendez, Hana and Daibes are expected to give their summations on Tuesday.

Menendez, a three-term senator, has seen his political support evaporate in New Jersey and Washington since his indictment last September. Democrats shunned him, and he has said he’ll run as an independent in November.

Nadine Menendez was indicted with her husband, Daibes and Hana, but she’s undergoing cancer treatment. A third businessman, Jose Uribe, pleaded guilty and testified as a cooperating witness that he bribed the couple with a Mercedes so that Menendez would influence two criminal investigations pursued by New Jersey authorities.

Menendez denies wrongdoing, and his lawyer Avi Weitzman argued at the start of the trial that he’s not an agent of Egypt but was instead conducting diplomacy. They also say that Menendez was helping constituents, not performing illegal acts on behalf of Daibes, Hana and Uribe.

Weitzman blamed Nadine Menendez for not telling the senator about gifts she received from Daibes and Hana and for concealing the extent of her financial difficulties before they got married in 2020.

But the prosecutor told jurors they should reject the senator’s blame-the-wife defense, saying Menendez was well aware of her many interactions with Hana, Daibes and Egyptian officials.

“You don’t get to be chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee by being clueless,” Monteleoni said.

‘Get Paid’

Menendez made a “shocking” call to a US Department of Agriculture undersecretary to help protect a monopoly that Egypt awarded to Hana for inspecting meat exports, the prosecutor told jurors. He said Menendez acted after Hana promised to give his wife a no-show job, with paychecks delivered by Daibes.

“When Menendez hears that Nadine is going to get paid, he springs into action again and again,” Monteleoni said.

At one point, Nadine Menendez asked her husband to ghost-write a letter for an Egyptian official who pressed other US senators to release $300 million in aid that foundered over concerns about Egypt’s human rights records, Monteleoni said. He wrote the letter within hours, the prosecutor said.

Monteleoni reminded jurors that two former committee staffers couldn’t understand why Menendez softened his public criticism of Egypt and held secret meetings.

“Menendez wasn’t acting weirdly,” Monteleoni said. “He was acting corruptly. He was acting like a corrupt man, because that’s what he was.”

‘Knew About the Checks’

Monteleoni argued that Menendez repeatedly received bribes in return for promises of actions — also known as a quid pro quo, or this for that. The senator had his lawyers lie to US prosecutors about not knowing about payments given to his wife, the prosecutor said.

“He had his lawyers tell prosecutors he didn’t know about his checks at all,” Monteleoni said. “That was a complete lie. He knew about the checks.”

Menendez also lied on a Senate ethics form in which he disclosed gold that he said belonged to his wife, according to the prosecutor. In fact, the gold came from Daibes, and the serial number of the bars matched those that the developer had held, Monteleoni said.

“It was gold that Daibes had just stopped by with,” the prosecutor said.

Monteleoni spent more than an hour of his summation Monday discussing just two of the 18 charges in the indictment — those dealing with bribes over Egypt. Menendez is charged in 16 counts, including bribery and acting as an agent of Egypt. He faces as many as 20 years in prison on the most serious charge if he is convicted.

The prosecutor relied heavily on charts summarizing texts, phone calls, emails and other milestones in the case. After the trial ended for the day, Menendez mocked that approach in comments to reporters.

“The government is intoxicated with their own rhetoric,” Menendez said. “They spent two hours on charts, not witnesses that came before the jury. Two hours telling jurors about what they believe conversations should be that they never heard.”

This is the second corruption trial for Menendez, whose first one ended with a hung jury in 2017 in New Jersey federal court. Prosecutors dropped that case.

The current case is US v. Menendez, 23-cr-490, US District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

(Updates with Menendez comments outside courthouse)

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