Bob Menendez’s attorneys are involving their family in their defense during the trial

NEW YORK — After hearing from 30 prosecution witnesses who testified in his federal corruption trial, Sen. Bob Menendez this week called on his family and forensic accountants as his lawyers argued that the New Jersey Democrat did not take bribes from wealthy businessmen and that his parents, who were Cuban refugees, taught him to hide stacks of cash in his home.

Menendez, the former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who is accused of acting as a foreign agent for Egypt, refused to testify in his own defense on Wednesday. Closing arguments in the case are expected to begin Monday.

Five people — his sister, sister-in-law, a prominent New Jersey attorney and two forensic accountants — testified on his behalf. One accountant told the jury that Menendez withdrew money from a credit union account in increments of about $400 more than 300 times over a 14-year period.

“Daddy always said you shouldn’t trust the banks,” the lawmaker’s sister, Caridad Gonzalez, told jurors as the first defense witness. Their father, mother and aunt, she recalled, all had the habit of stashing money in the house after the family fled persecution in Cuba in 1951, before Menendez was born in New York.

It became part of the family history, Gonzalez testified, and Menendez has been stashing cash in his home since at least the 1980s. Federal prosecutors said the FBI seized more than $486,000 in bribe money from his Englewood Cliffs, N.J., home during a court-authorized search in June 2022.

“He doesn’t take money for anything,” Gonzalez said in a testy moment during cross-examination, denying that her “little brother” would have accepted it. bribes from businessmen with ties to Egypt and Qatar. His motivation for running for public office? “He does it because that’s what he does; he serves people,” she said.

Federal prosecutors in Manhattan wrapped up their case Friday after seven weeks, saying emails, photos, text messages, voicemails, bank records and other evidence linked both Menendez and his wife, the former Nadine Arslanian, to businessmen who sought lawmakers’ help in making deals with Egyptian and Qatari officials or hoped Menendez would stop various criminal investigations by authorities in New Jersey.

Menendez is charged with bribery, extortion, wire fraud, obstruction of justice and acting as a foreign agent for Egypt. He could spend the rest of his life in prison if convicted on all counts. He and the two New Jersey businessmen on trial with him, Fred Daibes and Wael “Will” Hana, have pleaded not guilty. Nadine Menendez has also pleaded not guilty and will be tried at a later date.

On Wednesday, the senator told U.S. District Judge Sidney H. Stein that he had decided not to testify after “extensive” deliberation with his attorneys. He gave a brief explanation outside the courthouse later in the afternoon.

“From my perspective, the government has failed to prove all aspects of its case,” Menendez told reporters.

His lawyers claim he broke up with Arslanian in 2018 after discovering she was still seeing an ex-boyfriend. They say the couple could not have carried out a bribery scandal during that lull in their romance.

However, prosecutors allege that the two were hard at work from early 2018 through 2022, consulting with Egyptian intelligence agencies and helping them with policy priorities in Congress, all while assuming that Hana would later settle the score with bribes.

Attorney Avi Weitzman portrayed the ex-boyfriend as controlling and pervasive in Arslanian’s life, even after the senator entered the picture. A witness testified that Arslanian obtained a temporary restraining order against him in May 2018, months after she began dating Menendez.

“I am concerned for your safety and well-being,” Menendez wrote her in a 2018 text message. “However, my disappointment does not change my love for you. You are the love of my life and hopefully we can live the rest of our lives in peace and happiness.”

At one point, the judge complained that the defense was turning the trial into a “bad soap opera.” Ex-boyfriend, attorney Doug Anton, has said Nadine Menendez’s accusations against him are false.

Katia Tabourian, Nadine Menendez’s younger sister, testified Monday that it was not uncommon in their family — which has roots in Armenia, Cyprus and Lebanon — to give gold, jewelry and money as gifts. Nadine Menendez inherited gold bars from her grandmother and also received gold from her father, Tabourian said.

The Menendezes married in the fall of 2020. Prosecutors allege Nadine had cash and gold bars belonging to Daibes and Hana in her bedroom closet when the FBI conducted her search.

Under cross-examination by prosecutors, Gonzalez and Tabourian said they were close to Menendez and didn’t want to see him get into trouble. The senator’s daughter, MSNBC anchor Alicia Menendez, was in the front row of the courtroom gallery as Gonzalez testified. Afterward, the two women embraced and walked out of the courtroom together, followed by a beaming Menendez.

The trial will take place on Independence Day and resume on Monday.

Leave a Comment