US Senator Menendez’s motives, knowledge in dispute as corruption trial starts

By Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK (Reuters) -A federal prosecutor portrayed Democratic U.S. Senator Robert Menendez at the start of his corruption trial as a greedy politician willing to help foreign governments and disrupt local criminal probes in exchange for bribes, including gold bars.

The prosecutor, Lara Pomerantz, told jurors on Wednesday that New Jersey’s senior senator used his wife as a go-between, trying to help Egypt secure billions of dollars of U.S. military assistance, and aid the business and legal interests of two businessmen from his state linked to local criminal cases.

“For years, Robert Menendez betrayed the people he was supposed to serve by taking bribes,” Pomerantz said in her opening statement in Manhattan federal court.

“This case is about a public official who put greed first, who put his own interests about the duty to the people, who put his power up for sale,” Pomerantz added. “This was not politics as usual. This was politics for profit.”

Menendez’s lawyer Avi Weitzman disputed those claims in his opening statement. He called the three-term senator a “lifelong public servant” betrayed by his wife Nadine Menendez, who “kept him in the dark” about her financial dealings, including with the businessmen.

“The government’s allegations that the senator sold his office and his loyalty to this country are outrageously false,” Weitzman said. “The evidence will show Bob was doing his job, and he was doing it right.”

Nadine Menendez, meanwhile, “tried to get cash and assets any which way she could,” Weitzman added. “She kept Bob sidelined.”

The senator has pleaded not guilty to 16 criminal charges including bribery, fraud, acting as a foreign agent and obstruction. The trial could last until early July.


Prosecutors have called Menendez, 70, the central figure in a five-year scheme to accept bribes in exchange for political favors and aiding the governments of Egypt and Qatar.

Menendez and his wife accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars of bribes including cash, mortgage payments, a Mercedes-Benz convertible and the gold bars, according to prosecutors.Wael Hana and Fred Daibes, the two New Jersey businessmen, are being tried alongside him and also have pleaded not guilty. Their lawyers will deliver opening statements on Thursday.

Nadine Menendez, 57, has been charged as well, pleading not guilty. She faces a July 8 trial, with the delay resulting from what her lawyers called a serious medical condition.

It is the senator’s second on bribery charges, and cost him leadership of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Menendez’s previous trial in 2017 ended in a mistrial after jurors deadlocked.

Earlier on Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Sidney Stein seated 12 jurors and six alternates including a doctor, an investment banker, a commercial litigator, a retired economist and multiple therapists from a pool of 150 prospective jurors.


Pomerantz detailed what prosecutors consider a complex and sordid array of corruption lasting from 2018 to 2023, with the Menendezes accepting bribes from Hana, Daibes and an associate of Hana, the insurance broker Jose Uribe.

In return, Menendez helped Hana obtain a lucrative monopoly on certifying that meat exports to Egypt conformed to Islamic law, and tried to help Daibes secure millions of dollars from a Qatari investment fund, Pomerantz said.

Menendez has also been accused of trying to interfere in a federal criminal case against Daibes in New Jersey, including by recommending a candidate to be the top federal prosecutor there, and in state criminal cases involving two of Uribe’s associates.

Pomerantz said Menendez tried to cover his tracks by having his wife communicate about the bribes, but that she kept him apprised.

Prosecutors have said FBI agents found more than $480,000 of cash in the Menendezes’ home, much stashed in clothing, closets and a safe.

They also said Hana and Daibes provided the couple with more than $100,000 of gold bars, while Uribe helped them buy the Mercedes, with money for that purchase disguised as a loan.

Weitzman urged jurors to “resist the urge” to speculate as to why the Menendezes kept so much cash and gold – the “green and gold elephant” – at home, but noted that the gold bars were found in Nadine Menendez’s closet.

Uribe pleaded guilty in March to bribery and fraud, and is expected to testify against Menendez.

Robert Menendez became a senator in 2006. Before being indicted, he would have been favored in his Democratic-leaning state to win a fourth full Senate term in November.

But any re-election bid now would be a long shot. Menendez has suggested that he would try, if acquitted, to run as an independent. Only 9% of voters polled in March by Emerson College Polling/PIX11/The Hill said they would prefer him to another Democrat or a Republican.

The senator has resisted calls to resign made from across the political spectrum.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by David Gregorio and Will Dunham)



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