NJ Sen. Bob Menendez’s attorneys say wife never told him about gold bars and lavish gifts


In the opening statements for Bob Menendez’s trial on Wednesday, his attorneys told jurors the U.S. senator from New Jersey did not accept a single bribe — and that instead, his wife had kept her financial troubles from him, and didn’t tell him she was accepting help from their friends.

Attorney Avi Weitzman also said Menendez had acted within his duties to advocate for his constituents, and that can even include friends, as long as they live in New Jersey. Prosecutors allege the senator took lavish gifts from New Jersey businessmen to do favors for them and foreign governments.

“Every corrupt act that the government claims is just constituent services,” Weitzman said. “It’s not illegal to provide services for any friend.”

Weitzman and federal prosecutors gave their opening statements Wednesday afternoon in Manhattan federal court after two and a half days of jury selection. The attorneys for defendants Wael Hana and Fred Daibes, two of the three businessmen charged with bribing Mendendez, will give their opening statements Thursday. Then, prosecutors are expected to put their first witness on the stand.

Federal prosecutors allege the senator and his wife took more than $500,00 worth of bribes in exchange for helping the governments of Egypt and Qatar, as well as to help a New Jersey halal meat-certifying business secure an exclusive deal with Egypt.

The trial for Nadine Menendez — the senator’s wife, accused of serving as a go-between for Bob Menendez and the businessmen in corrupt schemes — will be held separately after the conclusion of the trial for the senator, Hana and Daibes. A third businessman, Jose Uribe, pleaded guilty to the charges and will testify for the prosecution in exchange for a lighter sentence.

“This case is about a public official who put greed first,” Lara Pomerantz, one of several federal prosecutors from the Southern District of New York who are trying the case, told the jury. “For years, Robert Menendez betrayed the people who he was supposed to serve by taking bribes.”

When the 18-count indictment was unsealed in September, most leaders of New Jersey’s Democratic Party establishment immediately called for the senator’s resignation. Bob Menendez refused to resign, but did not run for re-election in the June Democratic primary. He said he is considering running as an independent in November if acquitted.

The FBI raided the Menendez home in Englewood Cliffs, in June 2022 and confiscated gold bars, $400,00 in cash and a Mercedes Benz convertible, according to the indictment. Some of the gold bars had serial numbers registered to Daibes and his fingerprints and DNA were found on envelopes of cash, prosecutors say.

But Weitzman promised jurors that no matter how shady that might look, he would provide evidence to show that Bob Menendez has an innocent explanation. Specifically, he said Nadine Menendez didn’t tell the senator about gifts from Daibes, Hana and Uribe because they had just started dating and she was embarrassed to tell him about her financial problems.

Much of the cash prosecutors described finding stuffed into the senator’s jacket, shoes and in bags stored in his closet, Weitzman said, was money Bob Menendez had taken out of his bank account and hidden at home over the course of 30 years.

“I know that sounds odd, but let me tell you about Bob’s upbringing,” Weitzman said.

He described how Bob Menendez’s parents fled Cuba with only cash they had hidden in a grandfather clock, and said that had left a deep impression.

The defense attorney flashed a photo on the screen of $100 bills with the year they were printed, saying he will show evidence that the money in the home dated back to the 1980s. Weitzman also said he will present evidence to show that Bob Menendez thought his wife had inherited the gold bars from her parents.

The thorniest part of the case will be whether prosecutors can prove that the senator understood the gifts to be bribes, and whether he took any official acts in exchange. Pomerantz, the prosecutor, told jurors that as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Menendez was in a powerful position to help the governments of Egypt and Qatar.

“He was so powerful he could hold up billions of dollars in military aid,” Pomerantz said.

She said Bob Menendez helped Egypt by providing a list of employees who worked at the American embassy in Cairo, helped Egyptian diplomats write a letter about human rights in their country, and advocated for weapon sales.

“That’s right. A United States senator secretly helped a foreign country draft a letter to convince U.S. senators not to withhold military sales,” Pomerantz said, pausing between her words for dramatic effect.

The jury is made up of residents of New York City, several suburban counties in New York State, and southern Connecticut. Because New Jersey is not in the Southern District of New York, the jury pool did not include anyone from the Garden State. The jury is evenly split with six men and six women, is racially diverse, and the jurors represent a broad span of educational and professional backgrounds.



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