Sen. Menendez’s cash and gold were not bribes, defense says in closing argument

By Luc Cohen

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The cash and gold that authorities seized from Bob Menendez were not the proceeds of bribes as prosecutors allege, a defense lawyer said in his closing argument on Tuesday in the once-powerful senator’s corruption trial.

Prosecutors say Menendez accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars of bribes in the form of gold bars, cash, and car and mortgage payments in exchange for helping Egypt secure billions of dollars in U.S. military assistance and aiding the business and legal interests of businessmen who bribed him.

But defense lawyers have argued that Menendez regularly withdrew cash from banks and stored it at his home. In his summation, defense lawyer Adam Fee said prosecutors focused on the cash and gold because it was provocative, but said it did not prove Menendez was corrupt.

“The prosecutors have not come close to meeting their burden to show you that any of the gold or cash was given to Senator Menendez as a bribe,” Fee said. “His actions were lawful, normal and good for his constituents and this country.”

Menendez, 70, has pleaded not guilty to 16 criminal charges including bribery, fraud, acting as a foreign agent and obstruction.

Throughout the eight-week trial in Manhattan federal court, his lawyers have sought to shift blame toward the New Jersey Democrat’s wife Nadine Menendez, arguing the two lived largely separate lives and she kept him in the dark about her finances.

They have also portrayed their client’s actions as normal legislative activity.

Prosecutors have said Menendez used his wife as a go-between. She has also pleaded not guilty but has been undergoing treatment for breast cancer, and will be tried in August.

At the end of his closing argument on Tuesday, prosecutor Paul Monteleoni said that by blaming his wife, Menendez was “trying desperately to pass the buck to the people closest to him.”

The corruption trial is Bob Menendez’s second. A bribery case against him in New Jersey ended in a mistrial in 2017.

Regardless of the current trial’s outcome, the case has likely ended Bob Menendez’s Senate career.

The three-term senator resigned as chair of the Senate’s influential foreign relations committee after being charged in September. He has filed to run for re-election to his seat in November as an independent, but is considered a long shot.

Prosecutors say Menendez sought to pressure prosecutors to lay off investigations into Fred Daibes and Jose Uribe, two businessmen who had bribed him.

They said that after Wael Hana, a businessman with ties to Egyptian officials, put Nadine Menendez on his payroll for a “sham job,” Bob Menendez pressed a Department of Agriculture official to stop scrutinizing a halal certification monopoly that Egypt’s government had granted to Hana.

Menendez also ghostwrote a letter for Egyptian officials to respond to human rights concerns, prosecutors said.

In his closing argument on Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning, prosecutor Paul Monteleoni said Menendez sold his power and voters’ trust for riches for himself and his wife.

He also said that by blaming his wife, Menendez was “trying desperately to pass the buck to the people closest to him.”

Uribe pleaded guilty to bribery for buying Nadine Menendez a $60,000 Mercedes-Benz, and testified against Bob Menendez. Hana and Daibes have pleaded not guilty to corruption charges.

(Reporting by Luc Cohen in New York; Editing by David Gregorio)


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