Metro

Feds blast ‘Gold Bar Bob’ Menendez’s blame-his-wife defense at bribery trial

Sen. Bob Menendez’s brazen plot to blame his wife for his sprawling bribery scheme is merely a “desperate” plea to dodge responsibility himself, federal prosecutors argued Tuesday.

“There is no way that she could pull the wool over his eyes so that he didn’t know what she was doing,” prosecutor Paul Monteleoni told jurors Tuesday in Manhattan federal court of the New Jersey lawmaker’s wife, Nadine Menendez.

The senator is charged with accepting gold bars and cash in exchange for favors to businessmen and the governments of Egypt and Qatar.

Sen. Bob Menendez arriving at federal court in Manhattan on July 9, 2024. AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura
Federal prosecutors argued that Menendez’s claim that his wife is responsible for his alleged bribery scheme is a “desperate” plea to avoid taking responsibility.

“Throughout this trial, you have heard that everyone is to blame but Menendez,” Monteleoni added, accusing the embattled Democrat of “trying desperately to pass the buck.”

At the end of a nearly six-hour closing statement delivered over two days, the prosecutor repeated the phrase “blaming his wife” five times to remind jurors that Menendez’s lawyers have claimed that Nadine “sidelined” him from the scheme and stashed the gold bars in her safe without his knowledge.

“He’s blaming his wife for what’s in their bedroom closet,” Monteleoni said, referring to the $150,000 worth of gold, and envelopes stuffed with cash that FBI agents found in their Englewood Hills, NJ home in a June 2022 raid.

The prosecutor also brought up a witness’s testimony that the senator once rung a small bell to summon his wife onto their patio after calling her “mon amour” — “my love” in French — as evidence that Menendez was the one “in charge” of the bribery plot.

Menendez allegedly accepted cash and gold bars from businessmen from Egypt and Qatar. US District Court
Cash found inside a jacket during a search of Menendez’s home by federal agents. U.S. Attorney's Office via AP

“He’s not a puppet having his strings pulled by someone he summons with a bell,” Monteleoni said.

Menendez, 70, faces a potential decades-long prison sentence if he’s convicted on the bribery charges and on charges that he acted as an illegal foreign agent of Egypt and Qatar.

Prosecutors called 30 witnesses during the two-month-long trial, including the New Jersey insurance broker Jose Uribe, who testified that he bought Nadine a new Mercedes convertible in exchange for a promise that her husband would interfere in state criminal probes affecting his friends and relatives.

“If you are just a member of the public, he won’t do anything for you,” Monteleoni said Tuesday. “But if you promise a Mercedes to his girlfriend, all you have to do is tell Menendez a name.”

Jose Uribe testified that he bought Menendez’s wife a car in return for the senator interfering in state criminal probes. Elizabeth Williams via AP

Menendez also pressured the Agriculture Department to protect his co-defendant Wael Hana’s lucrative “monopoly” on approving halal meat exports to Egypt — which Hana was granted despite having no prior halal experience — in exchange for gold bars and a $120,000-a-year no-show job for Nadine, prosecutors say.

A lawyer for “Gold Bar Bob” Menendez, Adam Fee, paced up and down the side of the jury box Tuesday afternoon while accusing the feds of “ignoring the evidence that is bad for their story” and criminalizing the “normal” work of a senator.

“The simple truth is his actions were lawful, normal and good for his constituents and his country,” Fee argued.

Co-defendant Wael Hana arriving at Manhattan Federal Court on July 9, 2024. Photo by ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images

The attorney also ridiculed the feds’ repeated use of the term “bribe” to describe evidence that the senator wielded his influence to benefit his cronies — whose fingerprints were on the envelopes of cash found in his home.

“These guys are saying the word ‘bribe’ a lot,” Fee told jurors.

“It’s a bribe!”” he added, raising his voice in a mocking tone.

Prosecutors accused Menendez of “trying desperately to pass the buck.” AP

Menendez, who has maintained his innocence and did not testify, sat calmly Tuesday in a dark blue suit and pink tie, looking in the direction of the jury while his lawyer spoke.

His daughter Alicia Menendez, an anchor at MSNBC, looked on from the first row of the courtroom gallery behind him.

Fee spoke for nearly three hours Tuesday afternoon before the court broke for the day.

The defense attorney will finish his closing statement Wednesday morning, before lawyers for Hana and a third co-defendant, real estate mogul Fred Daibes, deliver their own statement.

The feds will then get a chance to deliver a final rebuttal.

Menendez has refused to step down from office and has announced plans to run for re-election as an independent, which could take away some votes from Democrat Rep. Andy Kim, who trounced Menendez in June’s primary.

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