‘It’s time to hold him responsible,’ prosecutors say in closing statements against Menendez

NEW YORK — Sen. Bob Menendez’s defense the last two months has been to blame everyone but himself during his corruption trial, but prosecutors urged jurors to make him accountable for a yearslong series of alleged schemes to sell his office.

“It’s time to hold him responsible,” federal prosecutor Paul Monteleoni told jurors during closing statements on Tuesday.

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Monteleoni spent much of his five-hour closing argument undercutting the key argument made by the senator’s defense team: That his wife Nadine Menendez went behind his back to collect bribes.

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At times, he tried to disarm the defense’s case with humor. During the trial, for example, Menendez’s attorneys spent a lot of time suggesting the senator may not have had access to a bedroom closet in his house where some cash and gold bars were found.

“Was the man locked out of his own bedroom?” Monteleoni said dramatically. “Of course not.”

The closing argument was prosecutors’ last chance to put Menendez at the heart of several overlapping conspiracies to disrupt criminal cases against New Jersey business people and aid the government of Egypt in exchange for bribes.

But Monteleoni said it’s a simple one at its core.

“This is a big case,” he said, “but it all boils down to a classic case of corruption on a massive scale.”

Menendez’s team is expected to spend three or more hours Tuesday afternoon on closing arguments.

At times through the prosecution’s closing argument, Menendez could be seen shaking his head at the defense table, especially when Monteleoni was going over the government’s charges that the senator had sold his office to benefit the Egyptian government and attempted to illegally obstruct the New Jersey investigation.

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In a prebuttal to the expected defense that the senator was distanced from the alleged schemes, Monteleoni also pointed to a September 2019 meeting described by the government’s star witness, Jose Uribe. He testified that Menendez summoned his wife with a bell during a meeting in the couple’s backyard. The bell, the prosecutor said, was proof that the senator “is the one charge.”

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

At another point, Monteleoni chastised another element of Menendez’s defense as “desperation,” which was that thousands of dollars in cash was found in his home inside a shopping bag from Forever 21, a store that his daughter-in-law Sabine had been to.

“What are they even saying?” Monteleoni said. “Are they saying it’s Sabine’s money?”

Monteleoni showed jurors photos of the tens of thousands of dollars in cash found at the Menendez’s home with the fingerprints of co-defendant and businessperson Fred Daibes. That included $10,000 found in a jacket that prosecutors said was owned by Menendez. Altogether, the money was proof the senator was in on the complex bribery scheme, Monteleoni said.

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Daibes and fellow co-defendant Wael “Will” Hana have argued that cash or gold found at the Menendez home were not bribes, but gifts between friends. Monteleoni told jurors that the one-kilogram gold bars and envelopes of cash were more sinister than just tokens of friendship.

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“Friends do not give friends envelopes stuffed with $10,000 in cash just out of friendship,” Monteleoni said

The government also put up a chart aimed to debunk a key part of Menendez’s defense: That some of the cash found at his home from withdrawals he made over the years stemmed from a distrust of banks because of his parents’ experience fleeing Cuba. The chart showed that more cash was found at Menendez’s home than was actually withdrawn.

Menendez’s team has argued that much of that cash was found in a locked closet used by Nadine, but Monteleoni urged the jury to dismiss the idea (at least some of the envelopes of cash found in the locked closet also had the senator’s fingerprints, Monteleoni said).

“Does Nadine make him clear out of the room” when she uses the closet, Monteleoni said. “The idea is preposterous. You should reject it.”

While the government is trying to undercut the claims that Menenedez was unaware of the cash and gold found in his home and how it ended up there, they described Nadine as a go-between for the payments.

“He doesn’t negotiate the bribe payment himself,” Monteleoni said. “He has Nadine do that for him.”

Monteleoni also described Menendez as acting as a “political consultant” and agent of the Egyptian government. He pointed to instances where Menendez allegedly pressured a United States Department of Agriculture official to stop questioning a halal meat certification granted to Hana from the government of Egypt — which prosecutors say paid Nadine bribes — and the senator allegedly ghost-writing letters for Egypt.







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