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Menendez’s Bribery Trial Puts Scrutiny on His Motives and His Marriage

Menendez’s Bribery Trial Puts Scrutiny on His Motives and His Marriage


It had been a busy Thursday for Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey.

He was in Washington presiding over the Senate Foreign Relations Committee because it heard testimony concerning the want for sustained support to Ukraine, after which making ready to journey to Philadelphia together with his spouse, Nadine Menendez, to simply accept an award from an Armenian-American group.

Back at residence, the F.B.I. was watching.

An agent, conducting surveillance close to the couple’s modest, split-level home in Englewood Cliffs, N.J., snapped a photograph of a Mercedes-Benz convertible parked out entrance, a court docket submitting reveals. Several weeks later, investigators looking the house would discover 13 bars of gold bullion and greater than $480,000 in money, a lot of it stashed in coat jackets, boots and a protected.

On Monday, virtually two years to the day after that agent was watching the senator’s home, Mr. Menendez, a Democrat, is to go on trial in Federal District Court in Manhattan, charged with participating in an elaborate, yearslong bribery scheme.

It might be his second corruption trial in seven years, however not like the primary, which resulted in a hung jury, there’s a risky and shocking new factor: expenses in opposition to Mr. Menendez’s spouse.

The case, prosecutors have indicated, is as a lot about Ms. Menendez as it’s about her husband. The U.S. legal professional’s workplace for the Southern District of New York has depicted Mr. Menendez and his spouse as collaborators who took bribes in change for the senator’s willingness to steer weapons and authorities support to Egypt, prop up a pal’s halal meat monopoly and meddle in felony investigations involving allies.

“What else can the love of my life do for you?” Ms. Menendez requested at a Washington steakhouse dinner throughout one of many many conferences that prosecutors say she organized between her husband and Egyptian officers.

Together, prosecutors contend, the couple have been entangled in corrupt schemes that started even earlier than their marriage in October 2020. The bribes, which additionally included a diamond ring and residential furnishings, helped Mr. and Ms. Menendez stay above their lawful means, prosecutors say.

But that partnership could now be fracturing, because the senator’s attorneys seem like making ready a protection that pins a lot of the blame on his spouse.

Ms. Menendez was to have been on trial together with her husband this week, however a judge postponed her trial till July after her attorneys stated she had a “critical medical situation” that required surgical procedure and a probably extended interval of restoration.

Although she is not going to be on the protection desk, she is predicted to loom uncomfortably over the proceedings. By the federal government’s telling, Ms. Menendez, 57, was a necessary cog in a wheel of corruption. She served as a conduit for bribes and as a go-between who relayed messages in emails and texts, generally utilizing what she and her husband referred to as her “007” cellphone.

The senator’s attorneys have stated in authorized papers that Mr. Menendez could, if he testifies, say he was duped by the lady he married lower than 4 years in the past, that she “withheld info” and that she “led him to consider that nothing illegal was going down.”

Such a tactic presents challenges, given the couple’s public persona as loyal companions who traveled and attended occasions collectively, stated Tatiana R. Martins, a former chief of the Southern District’s public corruption unit who’s now in non-public follow.

Ms. Martins stated the senator’s attorneys may argue that his spouse “did this all on her personal; he had no concept; she saved it from him,” however prosecutors might search to rebut that by introducing proof of how shut the 2 have been and the way they shared all the pieces.

“They have this nice relationship, but she’s holding all this from him?” Ms. Martins stated.

As for Ms. Menendez, even when her husband’s technique is to attempt to shift blame, such testimony would virtually actually be inadmissible at her trial, stated Jonathan Kravis, a protection lawyer in Washington and former trial legal professional with the Justice Department’s public integrity part.

The postponement of Ms. Menendez’s trial may even give her and her attorneys a preview of the complete scope of the federal government’s case and allow them to make strategic changes as wanted, he stated.

“This is clearly not how the federal government desires to do it,” Mr. Kravis stated. But, he added, the separate trials have been “not a loss of life blow, for both case, by any means.”

Mr. Menendez might be tried alongside two New Jersey businessmen, Wael Hana and Fred Daibes, who have been additionally charged within the bribery conspiracy. All three have pleaded not responsible, as has Ms. Menendez.

Mr. Menendez, who’s close to the tip of his third full time period, has persistently maintained his innocence and has left open the potential of operating for re-election in November. On the Senate ground in January, he attacked the Southern District prosecutors, saying they have been engaged “not in a prosecution however a persecution” and have been searching for “victory, not justice.”

The expenses, disclosed in a September indictment, shook Washington and prompted even Mr. Menendez’s most stalwart Democratic allies to name for his resignation. The brazen nature of the costs has additionally fueled a backlash in opposition to so-called machine politics in New Jersey, which has, in flip, considerably elevated the challenges his son, Representative Robert Menendez, faces as he seeks a second House time period.

The trial is predicted to delve into problems with political intrigue at residence and overseas at a second of heightened scrutiny over legislative self-dealing. Two weeks in the past, Representative Henry Cuellar, Democrat of Texas, and his spouse have been charged with taking bribes from corporations managed by the federal government of Azerbaijan, intensifying curiosity within the function performed by overseas brokers.

Mr. Menendez’s attorneys have argued in court docket that by charging the senator, who has represented New Jersey in Congress since 1993, prosecutors are searching for to criminalize routine legislative actions. In one submitting, the attorneys stated “the federal government’s obvious zeal to ‘get again’ at Senator Menendez for defeating its prior prosecution has overwhelmed its sound judgment.”

The senator’s attorneys have additionally requested the judge, Sidney H. Stein, to permit them to current the jury with the testimony of a psychiatrist, Karen B. Rosenbaum, who has examined the senator. She has concluded, they stated, that “worry of shortage” stemming from Mr. Menendez’s father’s loss of life by suicide and his mother and father’ historical past as Cuban refugees led to a “longstanding coping mechanism of routinely withdrawing and storing money in his residence” — a principle that protection attorneys will presumably use to elucidate the cash seized by investigators.

In summarizing the psychiatrist’s findings, the senator’s attorneys additionally disclosed that Mr. Menendez’s father, a compulsive gambler, died after Mr. Menendez stopped paying off his playing money owed, contributing to what they referred to as “intergenerational trauma.”

Federal prosecutors oppose permitting Dr. Rosenbaum’s testimony, questioning the scientific foundation for her conclusions and arguing that the protection is attempting to “engender sympathy” from the jury improperly.

The senator’s trial may even pull again the curtain on the spending habits of a pair who hopscotched all over the world with congressional delegations, attended state dinners on the White House and entertained typically.

In one authorized submitting, prosecutors famous Mr. Menendez’s desire for “luxurious objects reminiscent of Bombay Sapphire gin, cigars and upscale meals.”

The element prompted a tart response from the senator’s attorneys, who famous that Bombay sells for $23.99 at Target.

“Hardly a top-shelf liquor, nothing about Bombay Sapphire gin smells of extra or is past Senator Menendez’s monetary talents as a lifetime public servant,” they wrote.

Judge Stein dominated this month that he would allow the introduction of the proof, saying it was “inextricably intertwined with the proof of the charged crimes.”

The indictment is crammed with references to cash, and to its absence.

Ms. Menendez, who divorced her first husband in 2005, was unemployed when she started courting Mr. Menendez in early 2018. Ten months later, she was concerned in a deadly pedestrian motorcar accident that left her with out a automotive, a necessity that prosecutors say led to one of many first bribes, the Mercedes-Benz convertible.

Jose Uribe, a former insurance coverage dealer charged with the senator within the alleged conspiracy, has pleaded responsible. He admitted in court docket in March that he had given Ms. Menendez the $60,000 convertible in return for the senator’s assist in attempting to disrupt an insurance coverage fraud investigation in New Jersey.

“I knew that giving a automotive in return for influencing a United States senator to cease a felony investigation was flawed, and I deeply remorse my actions,” Mr. Uribe informed Judge Stein.

When Ms. Menendez practically misplaced her residence to foreclosures in 2019, Mr. Hana used his halal meat certification firm to pay $23,569 to erase her mortgage debt and he and Mr. Uribe continued to “facilitate the funds,” prosecutors say.

Ms. Menendez and her first husband purchased the home, in-built 1960, when their two youngsters have been younger. The plan was to tear it down and rebuild, in keeping with two former shut pals. Instead, over time, the small home with light white paint began appearing run-down and misplaced in a neighborhood of knockdowns changed by mansions with three-car garages and conspicuous stone facades.

After the senator moved in, in 2020, messages relayed on cellphones seized by investigators and included in court docket filings confirmed Ms. Menendez beckoning handymen to the home to trim bushes, lay carpet, ship an influence washer and restore the storage door.

In an interview with the F.B.I., one individual stated he had given Ms. Menendez a garden mower, however when the senator realized of it, “he grew to become indignant” and informed her that “she needed to pay.”

But by 2022, after the couple’s home was searched, they have been working collectively to attempt to cowl their tracks, prosecutors stated.

Mr. Menendez wrote his spouse a verify for the quantity Mr. Hana had paid towards the mortgage, including a handwritten memo indicating it was “to liquidate mortgage,” prosecutors stated. She then reimbursed Mr. Hana, via his lawyer, noting it was “full fee of Wael Hana mortgage,” in keeping with the indictment.

The Menendezes additionally refunded the automotive funds.

The cash, prosecutors stated, was not a mortgage, however a bribe fee — “as Menendez and Nadine Menendez effectively knew.”

In March, prosecutors introduced a brand new cost in opposition to the Menendezes: obstruction of justice.

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