Bob Menendez "on the take": Senator's corruption trial underway

The New Jersey senator allegedly took cash, gold and a Mercedes in exchange for favors for foreign officials

Published May 15, 2024 6:47PM (EDT)

US Senator Bob Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey, arrives at Manhattan Federal Court, in New York City on May 15, 2024. (ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images)
US Senator Bob Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey, arrives at Manhattan Federal Court, in New York City on May 15, 2024. (ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images)

The trial of New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez — charged with 16 felony counts, including accepting bribes from foreign governments in the form of gold bars, a new car and cash — commenced Wednesday.

The one-time chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Menendez allegedly worked on behalf of the Egyptian and Qatari governments, exchanging government secrets for a new Mercedes-Benz for his wife and hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash and gold bars, which federal investigators found stitched into jackets and stuffed in safe deposit boxes. The Democratic senator is also accused of accepting bribes from businessmen, including Fred Daibes and Wael Hana, two codefendants in his case, in exchange for personal favors.

Federal Prosecutor Lara Pomerantz laid out the state’s case against Menendez in opening arguments, telling the jury that Hana, who has ties to the Egyptian government, proposed that Nadine Menendez, then-girlfriend of the senator, could help him with issues with his halal food import business, beginning a long-running saga of corruption.

The senator’s wife acted as a middleman between her husband and those who sought to influence him, federal prosecutors say.

“This was not politics as usual. This was politics for profit. This was a United States senator on the take,” Pomerantz said, per the New York Times.

Working with the government is Jose Uribe, another New Jersey businessman and former codefendant, who took a deal to share his testimony. Uribe purchased Nadine a Mercedes in exchange for her husband pushing for an insurance fraud investigation to end.

For Menendez, attorney Avi Weitzman delivered the defense’s opening statements, arguing that the “lifelong public servant” was engaging in routine diplomacy — and that the cash found in his home was the result of habits from his poor immigrant parents.

Weitzman also built a case that Nadine fooled her husband, keeping her personal financial woes a secret from him, arguing that the pair led separate lives.

Menendez, still mulling a run for re-election as an independent, avoided traceable communications with those he allegedly took bribes from, not going much further than a Google search for “how much one kilo of gold [is] worth” after a trip to Egypt. But prosecutors intend to use messages between Nadine and others to build the case that there was a direct exchange of favors for money.

“The text messages will tell you what happened," Pomerantz reportedly told jurors. "As you read those messages you’ll see the scheme unfold.”

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