In closing, prosecutor says Sen. Bob Menendez’s behavior in response to bribes was ‘wildly abnormal’

Jul 9, 2024, 8:01 AM | Updated: 8:04 am

NEW YORK (AP) — A prosecutor accused Sen. Bob Menendez on Tuesday of engaging in “wildly abnormal” behavior in response to bribes during a closing argument at the Democrat’s New York City corruption trial.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Monteleoni made the accusation as he continued a summation he began a day earlier before a Manhattan federal court jury.

Menendez, 70, has pleaded not guilty to charges that he accepted bribes including gold and hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash from 2018 to 2022 from three New Jersey businessmen who wanted his help in their business ventures.

His trial entered its ninth week on Monday. His lawyer was expected to begin a closing argument on the New Jersey senator’s behalf later on Tuesday.

Menendez is on trial with two of the businessmen — Wael Hana and Fred Daibes. Hana, who prosecutors say enlisted Menendez to help him gain and protect a monopoly on the certification of meat exported from the U.S. to Egypt, and Daibes, an influential real estate developer, have also both pleaded not guilty. A third businessman pleaded guilty and testified at the trial.

Early Tuesday, Monteleoni highlighted what he described as Menendez’s attempt to influence former New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal in early 2019 to drop a criminal case on behalf of one of the bribe-paying businessmen with a false claim that investigators were discriminating against Hispanic truckers.

Grewal, now head of enforcement for the Securities and Exchange Commission, testified during the trial that he firmly rejected Menendez’s efforts to intervene in criminal probes by directing him to tell a New Jersey defense lawyer already involved in the case to register any complaints with a judge or the trial team.

The encounters with Grewal were cited by Monteleoni as examples of things Menendez did that the prosecutor said “were wildly abnormal.”

“Menendez is smart. Menendez is careful,” Monteleoni said, noting that the senator claimed discrimination in the trucking industry rather than directly asking that an investigation be shut down because he knew the latter would be wrong.

He said claiming discrimination gave Menendez deniability if anyone ever accused him of trying to pressure New Jersey’s attorney general to drop a probe.

In reality, though, Menendez made the approaches to Grewal in return for a new Mercedes-Benz that the businessmen promised would be delivered to his then-girlfriend, Nadine Arslanian, who became his wife in fall 2020, Monteleoni said.

Nadine Menendez, 57, also is charged in the case, but her trial has been postponed while she recovers from breast cancer surgery.

Menendez has resisted calls, even by some prominent Democrats, that he resign, though he did have to relinquish his powerful post as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee after the charges were unveiled last fall.

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

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In closing, prosecutor says Sen. Bob Menendez’s behavior in response to bribes was ‘wildly abnormal’