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Prosecutor tells New York City jury at bribery trial that Sen. Bob Menendez put power ‘up for sale’

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NEW YORK (AP) — A prosecutor accused Sen. Bob Menendez in a closing argument at his bribery trial Monday of putting his power up for sale to benefit three New Jersey businessmen who bribed him with gold, cash and a luxury car.

The presentation by Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Monteleoni that will continue on Tuesday prompted the Democrat to scoff as he left the courthouse, saying: “The government is intoxicated with their own rhetoric.”

Minutes earlier, Monteleoni urged the Manhattan federal court jury to follow a trail of hundreds of emails and text messages between the businessmen and Menendez and his wife to see the link between the businessmen and the bribe proceeds found in an FBI raid on the Menendez residence in June 2022.

He said they’ll also be able to match fingerprint evidence linking the businessmen and Menendez to the bribes, including fingerprints on the tape that bound thousands of dollars in cash hidden in coat pockets, boots and boxes found at the Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, home owned by his wife, Nadine Menendez.

Monteleoni said the senator “put his power up for sale.”

The prosecutor said it wasn’t enough that the senator was one of the most powerful people in Washington as the ranking member and later the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where he could block or approve hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid to nations such as Egypt.

“He also wanted to use it to pile up riches for himself and his wife,” Monteleoni said.

Monteleoni’s closing as the trial enters its ninth week in Manhattan federal court was about half finished when court concluded for the day.

As he left the courthouse, Menendez mocked the prosecutor’s closing, saying the government had “spent two hours on charts, not witnesses that came before the jury.”

He added that Monteleoni had spent “two hours telling jurors about what they believe conversations should be that they never heard.”

Monteleoni cited a “clear pattern of corruption” and told jurors to closely review communications between the Menendez couple and the businessmen to see evidence of bribes along with proof that they were trying to cover up their schemes.

Prosecutors say gold bars, over $480,000 in cash and a Mercedes-Benz discovered during the FBI raid are the proceeds of bribes paid to get Menendez to help the men in their business dealings.

Monteleoni said defense claims that gold in the house had mostly been inherited by Nadine Menendez was belied by serial numbers on gold bars that showed they had come from the businessmen who paid bribes.

“All this talk about Nadine having family gold is a distraction,” he said.

In return for bribes, prosecutors say, the senator took actions from 2018 to 2022 to protect or enhance the business interests of the businessmen — including protecting Wael Hana’s monopoly over the certification of meat exported to Egypt from the U.S. to ensure it conformed to Islamic dietary requirements.

Besides charges of bribery, extortion, fraud and obstruction of justice, Menendez has also been charged with acting as a foreign agent of Egypt.

Monteleoni said Menendez took bribe-driven actions to benefit Egypt, including speedily clearing nearly $100 million in military aid and demanding that a top U.S. agriculture official stop interfering with Hana’s meat-certification monopoly, causing the official to reassure U.S. Embassy workers in Egypt “that he has their back.”

The prosecutor said Menendez also shared sensitive nonpublic information about the number of Americans at the U.S. Embassy in Egypt and the number of Egyptians who worked there, knowing it would reach the Egyptians, and helped the Egyptian government prepare its response to U.S. senators critical of its policies.

All the while, Monteleoni said, Menendez was sometimes speaking vaguely in his communications with his wife and the businessmen because, as she knew, he “wants his fingerprints off it” and “they don’t want to get caught.”

“He was acting like a bribed man because that’s what he was,” the prosecutor said.

Menendez, 70, along with Hana and real estate developer Fred Daibes, have pleaded not guilty and are on trial together. A third businessman, Jose Uribe, pleaded guilty in the case and testified against the others during the trial, the second the senator has faced in the last decade. None of the defendants testified.

An earlier trial against Menendez in New Jersey ended in 2017 with a deadlocked jury. After the charges were lodged last fall, Menendez was forced to give up his chairmanship of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Nadine Menendez, 57, the senator’s wife, is also charged in the case, but her trial has been postponed while she recovers from breast cancer surgery. She also has pleaded not guilty.

As part of his defense, Menendez’s lawyers have argued that tens of thousands of dollars in cash found in Bob Menendez’s boots and jackets resulted from his habit of storing cash at home after hearing from his family how they escaped Cuba in 1951 with only the cash they had hidden in their home.

Menendez’s lawyers have also asserted that his wife, who began dating the senator in 2018 and married him two years later, kept him in the dark about her financial troubles and assistance she requested from the businessmen.

Menendez was born in Manhattan after the family moved to New York City, though he was raised in the New Jersey cities of Hoboken and Union City, according to testimony by his sister.

Menendez has held public office continuously since 1986, serving as a state legislator before serving 14 years as a U.S. congressman. In 2006, then-Gov. Jon Corzine appointed Menendez to the Senate seat he vacated when he became governor.

Several weeks ago, Menendez filed to run for reelection this year as an independent.

Associated Press