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Sen. Menendez fraud trial hits closing arguments

Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., arriving to federal court Associated Press/Photo by Yuki Iwamura

Sen. Menendez fraud trial hits closing arguments

Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Monteleoni finished the prosecution’s closing arguments on Tuesday as the fraud trial against Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., entered its ninth week. The government charged Menendez and his wife, Nadine, after finding gold bars, over $480,000 in cash, and a Mercedes-Benz at their New Jersey home during an FBI raid in 2022. The senator faces 16 federal charges, including bribery and wire fraud.

Prosecutors alleged that three businessmen bribed the couple to benefit themselves and the Egyptian government. Emails, text messages, and fingerprints link Menendez’s wealth to the businessmen, Monteleoni argued in closing. As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the senator put his power up for sale, Monteleoni told the jury. Menendez pleaded not guilty, maintaining he and his wife are innocent.

Menendez claimed the stacks of cash that investigators found hidden among clothing and in storage boxes were legally withdrawn from his personal accounts over 30 years. The money was kept for emergencies, a family habit that might seem old-fashioned, he said. The Menendezs’ defense team claimed the gold bars were inherited by Nadine. However, prosecutors allege that serial numbers link the bars to the businessmen. A federal judge acquitted the senator of a separate set of federal bribery charges in 2018, one year after a hung jury failed to reach a verdict.

What’s the defense’s argument? Defense attorney Adam Fee began the defense’s closing arguments after the prosecution finished mid-Tuesday. Fee argued that prosecutors failed to prove Menendez guilty of bribery beyond a reasonable doubt. The prosecution doesn’t know anything about where that money came from, Fee said. Even if a businessman’s fingerprints are on it, that doesn’t prove to whom it was given or why, he argued.

Menendez and businessmen Wael Hana and Fred Daibes are on trial together after each pleaded not guilty. A third businessman, Jose Uribe, accepted a plea deal in exchange for testifying against the defense. Nadine has also pleaded not guilty but is recovering from breast cancer surgery and will be tried at a later date.

Dig deeper: Read my report on how Menendez still plans to run for reelection this fall, but not as a Democrat.

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Christina Grube

Christina Grube is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute.

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