Witness testimony is expected to begin in Bob Menendez's bribery trial

The bribery trial of New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez continued Thursday with opening statements for his co-defendants, New Jersey businessmen Wael Hana and Fred Daibes.

Attorney Lawrence Lustberg accused prosecutors of “criminalizing friendships.” He portrayed Hana as if the government assumed she was guilty by association with Daibes and Jose Uribe, the third businessman charged along with Menendez and his wife Nadine Menendez. However, Uribe pleaded guilty and is cooperating with the prosecutor and agreeing to testify in the case.

Wednesday's proceedings consisted of opening statements, as the defense and prosecution offered very different portraits of the Democratic senator. Menendez, who is being tried separately from his wife, Nadine Menendez, is accused of trading his influence and power to foreign governments and three New Jersey businessmen in a complex bribery scheme that allegedly stretched from 2018 to 2023.

“He was powerful. He was also corrupt,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Lara Pomerantz said Wednesday. “For years, Robert Menendez betrayed the people he was meant to serve by taking bribes. And what was his price? Gold bars. Envelopes filled with cash. Checks for a fake job for his wife. A Mercedes-Benz convertible.'

Menendez's attorney, Avi Weitzman, tried to distance his client from Nadine Menendez, saying the two live largely separate lives. Nadine Menendez is expected to play a key role in the senator's trial.

Menendez is being tried along with two businessmen: Hana, owner of the halal meat company IS EG Halal, and Fred Daibes, a real estate developer. All three have pleaded not guilty. A third businessman charged, Jose Uribe, pleaded guilty in March and admitted to buying Menendez's wife a $60,000 Mercedes convertible to influence the senator. Uribe will testify at trial, Pomerantz said.

The judge in the case ruled earlier this week that a psychiatrist who assessed Menendez should not testify about “two major traumatic events” in the senator's life that his lawyers say explain why investigators found hundreds of thousands of cash in his home.

screenshot-2023-09-22-at-9-36-42-am.png
Photo from the unsealed indictment of Senator Bob Menendez, accused of accepting bribes, including gold bars.

DOJ


Federal investigators found more than $480,000 in cash hidden in envelopes and jackets, as well as 13 gold bars worth more than $100,000 when executing a search warrant at Menendez's New Jersey home in June 2022. They also discovered nearly $80,000 in his wife's safe deposit box at a nearby bank.

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