Sen. Menendez sold power for gold, prosecutor says at corruption trial’s close

By Luc Cohen

NEW YORK (Reuters) -Bob Menendez sold his power for money and gold to help Egypt’s government and businessmen who showered the once-powerful senator and his wife with bribes, a prosecutor said on Monday in his closing argument at Menendez’s corruption trial.

Over more than seven weeks of testimony, federal prosecutors sought to persuade a jury that Menendez accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars of bribes in the form of gold bars, cash, and car and mortgage payments.

In exchange, prosecutors said the New Jersey Democrat sought to help Egypt secure billions of dollars in U.S. military assistance and aid the business and legal interests of New Jersery businessmen Fred Daibes, Wael Hana and Jose Uribe.

“It wasn’t enough for him to be one of the most powerful people in Washington,” prosecutor Paul Monteleoni said in his closing argument in Manhattan federal court. “He also wanted to pile up riches for himself and his wife.”

At the trial, jurors saw gold bars federal agents seized from Menendez’s home. The agents also found more than $480,000 of cash, including some stuffed in envelopes inside a jacket bearing the senator’s name.

Menendez, 70, has pleaded not guilty to 16 criminal charges including bribery, fraud, acting as a foreign agent and obstruction. His lawyers have sought to shift the blame toward his wife, Nadine Menendez, who prosecutors say he used as a go-between for the bribes.

Nadine Menendez has also pleaded not guilty and will be tried separately starting in August.

The case has likely ended the three-term senator’s political career. Bob Menendez resigned as chair of the Senate’s influential foreign relations committee after being charged in September. He is running for re-election of his seat in November as an independent, but is considered a long shot.

At the outset of a closing argument expected to last five hours, Monteleoni said Bob Menendez sought to benefit Hana and Egyptian officials with whom he was close after Hana put Nadine Menendez on his payroll in a “sham job” that paid her $10,000 per month.

Bob Menendez ghostwrote a letter for Egyptian officials to respond to concerns a fellow senator had raised about the country’s human rights record, and pressed a U.S. Department of Agriculture official to stop scrutinizing a deal prosecutors say Egypt’s government granted Hana’s company to certify halal meat.

“When Menendez hears Nadine is going to get paid, he springs into action again and again,” Monteleoni said. “He sold all of that trust and all of that power for the benefit of Hana and of Egypt for money and for gold.”

Hana and fellow New Jersey businessman Fred Daibes are on trial alongside Menendez and have pleaded not guilty. Both men also provided Menendez with gold bars, Montelioni said.

Uribe, an insurance broker, pleaded guilty to bribing Bob Menendez and cooperated with the government. He testified last month that he bought Nadine Menendez a $60,000 Mercedes-Benz in exchange for her husband leaning on state prosecutors to lay off criminal probes into Uribe’s associates.

Monteleoni told jurors that the day after Uribe texted Nadine Menendez asking her not to forget about him, Bob Menendez called the former New Jersey attorney general to inquire about the investigations.

“Actions speak louder than words, and Menendez’s actions are shouting from the rooftops,” Monteleoni said.

Monteleoni’s closing argument is expected to resume on Tuesday. Defense closing arguments will follow before the jury begins its deliberations.

(Reporting by Luc Cohen in New York;Editing by Noeleen Walder and Alistair Bell)




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