Culture

Menendez lawyer denies bribery scheme, says gold bars are his wife’s


By Holmes Lybrand, Sabrina Souza and Gregory Krieg | CNN

Sen. Bob Menendez’s lawyer launched his defense Wednesday in a Manhattan courtroom, insisting that the New Jersey Democrat never engaged in the international bribery scheme described by federal prosecutors and asserting that there were “innocent explanations” for the tangle of alleged crimes that has already upended Menendez’s political career.

“They want you to be blinded by the gold and the cash,” Menendez attorney Avi Weitzman told the jury, suggesting that many of the items the senator allegedly took as bribes – including gold bars and a luxury car – were owned or obtained by his wife, Nadine, who is also charged and set to go on trial in July.

Menendez has been charged with acting as a foreign agent on behalf of Egypt and assisting the government of Qatar, all while taking bribes from several New Jersey businessmen. He is being tried with two of his co-defendants: Wael Hana, an Egyptian American businessman, and Fred Daibes, a New Jersey real estate developer. All three have pleaded not guilty. Menendez is not running for reelection in next month’s Democratic primary but has said he would consider an independent bid should he be exonerated.

In a federal courthouse, blocks from the site of former President Donald Trump’s hush money trial, prosecutor Lara Pomerantz told jurors in her opening statement that they would see evidence and hear testimony of a yearslong conspiracy between Menendez, his wife and two New Jersey businessmen to take bribes while using his power to influence military aid to Egypt and pressure prosecutors and investigators to stop investigations and criminal cases.

“Robert Menendez was a United States senator on the take,” Pomerantz said. “Motivated by greed, focused on how much money he could put in his own pocket and his wife’s pocket. That is why we are here today. That is what this trial is all about.”

While Nadine Menendez, who has also pleaded not guilty, is not yet on trial, her alleged actions and influence on her husband were a key part of the defense’s opening statement. Weitzman repeatedly argued that the couple have mostly led “separate lives” and “had separate finances.”

“They even had a separate cell phone plan,” he added, before spelling out a series of “financial concerns that (Nadine) kept from Bob,” whom Weitzman described as being smitten by a “beautiful and tall, international woman.”

Weitzman also argued that Menendez “was acting lawfully” in his role as a US senator, portraying interactions prosecutors have called corrupt as mere diplomatic efforts for the US and advocacy on behalf of his New Jersey constituents – including some longtime friends.

“You might not like it,” Weitzman said, “but it is not a crime.”

In explaining the gold bars found in Menendez’s house by investigators, Weitzman again pointed the finger at the senator’s wife, who, he said, kept the “family gold.”

Nadine, Weitzman said, is from Lebanon, where keeping gold is “cultural,” in part because of the region’s historically unstable currencies, while adding that gifts of gold and silver are common for …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment

      

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