Prosecutor tells New York City jury at bribery trial that Sen. Bob Menendez put power ‘up for sale’

Monteleoni's closing as the trial enters its ninth week in Manhattan federal court was expected to be about half finished when court concluded for the day.

Bob Menendez

Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., leaves federal court Thursday, May 16, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

A prosecutor accused Sen. Bob Menendez in a closing argument at his bribery trial Monday of putting the power of the onetime chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee up for sale to benefit three New Jersey businessmen who showered him with hundreds of thousands of dollars in gold, cash and a luxury convertible.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Monteleoni told the Manhattan federal court jury that they’ll be able to trace hundreds of emails and text messages between the businessmen and Menendez and his wife to see the link between the businessmen and the bribe proceeds found in an FBI raid on the Menendez residence in June 2022.

He said they’ll also be able to see fingerprint evidence that shows that the businessmen and Menendez were linked to the bribes, including fingerprints on the tape that bound thousands of dollars in cash hidden in coat pockets, boots and boxes found at the Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, home owned by Nadine Menendez.

Monteleoni said the senator “put his power up for sale.”

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The prosecutor said it wasn’t enough that the senator was one of the most powerful people in Washington, that he had the power to approve hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid to Egypt and the power to recommend who should be the top federal prosecutor in New Jersey.

“He also wanted to use it to pile up riches for himself and his wife,” Monteleoni said.

Monteleoni’s closing as the trial enters its ninth week in Manhattan federal court was expected to be about half finished when court concluded for the day.

Prosecutors are expected to continue tying together the evidence they’ve presented against the Democrat to support their claim that gold bars, over $480,000 in cash and a Mercedes-Benz discovered during the FBI raid are the proceeds of bribes.

In addition to testimony from several dozen witnesses, prosecutors introduced hundreds of documents, emails, text messages, phone records and other factual evidence.

In return for bribes, prosecutors say, the senator took actions from 2018 to 2022 to protect or enhance the business interests of the businessmen — including helping one of them obtain the sole right to certify that meat exported to Egypt from the U.S. conformed to Islamic dietary requirements.

Menendez, 70, and two of the businessmen have pleaded not guilty and are on trial together. A third businessman pleaded guilty in the case and testified against the others during the federal trial, the second the senator has faced in the last decade. None of the defendants testified.

An earlier trial against Menendez in New Jersey ended in 2017 with a deadlocked jury. After the charges were lodged last fall, Menendez was forced to give up his chairmanship of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Nadine Menendez, 57, the senator’s wife, is also charged in the case, but her trial has been postponed while she recovers from breast cancer surgery. She also has pleaded not guilty.

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As part of his defense, Menendez’s lawyers have argued that the gold bars belonged to his wife and that tens of thousands of dollars in cash found in Bob Menendez’s boots and jackets resulted from his habit of storing cash at home after hearing from his family how they escaped Cuba in 1951 with only the cash they had hidden in their home.

His lawyers have also asserted that Nadine Menendez, who began dating the senator in 2018 and married him two years later, kept him in the dark about her financial troubles and assistance she requested from the businessmen.

Menendez was born in Manhattan after the family moved to New York City, though he was raised in the New Jersey cities of Hoboken and Union City, according to testimony by his sister.

Menendez has held public office continuously since 1986, serving as a state legislator before serving 14 years as a U.S. congressman. In 2006, then-Gov. Jon Corzine appointed Menendez to the Senate seat he vacated when he became governor.

Several weeks ago, Menendez filed to run for reelection this year as an independent.

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