Sen. Menendez’s attorneys urge jury to reject ‘cherry-picked nonsense’ • New Jersey Monitor

Sen. Menendez’s attorneys urge jury to reject ‘cherry-picked nonsense’ • New Jersey Monitor

Jurors weighing the fate of Sen. Bob Menendez heard conflicting closing arguments Tuesday in his federal corruption trial, with one prosecutor summarizing the New Jersey senator’s actions as “a classic case of corruption on a grand scale” and a defense attorney dismissing it as “cherry-picked nonsense.”

Prosecutor Paul Monteleoni, concluding a five-hour closing argument he began Monday, lambasted Menendez for saying he didn’t know his wife, Nadine, had taken cash, gold, a luxury car, mortgage payments and other valuables shortly after the couple began dating in 2018.

Reviewing the 18 counts, Monteleoni reminded jurors of evidence presented by prosecutors since the trial began in mid-May that linked the wealth to the couple’s co-defendants, Fred Daibes, Wael Hana and Jose Uribe.

Uribe, who pleaded guilty in March, and Daibes wanted the senator’s influence to end their criminal problems, while Daibes and Hana sought the senator’s power as chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee to help them land lucrative business investments from Egyptian and Qatari officials, prosecutors charged.

“Ladies and gentlemen, this is where the responsibility lies. This is where the thousands and thousands of dollars lie. It’s time to hold him accountable. It’s time to hold them all accountable,” Monteleoni said.

Menendez’s attorney, Adam Fee, faced jurors Tuesday afternoon to deliver the first half of his closing argument, deriding the prosecution’s case as a “towering pile of Jenga stuff.”

“If you listen to prosecutors, you would think there was cash and gold in every room of that house, just like Scrooge McDuck swimming in gold coins,” Fee said.

FBI investigators have discovered $486,000 in cash stuffed into jackets, bags, boxes and boots, gold bars worth more than $100,000, a $67,000 Mercedes-Benz convertible and other valuables from the couple’s Englewood Cliffs home during a raid in June 2022.

The senator’s lawyers said Menendez hid the money for decades because of his distrust of banks, a “Cuban thing” common among refugees. The gold bars were gifts and family heirlooms, they added. Hoarding cash at home and investing in gold bars is “bizarre behavior” but not criminal, Fee said.

The government has failed to prove a single count despite the heavy burden of proof placed on it – proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

– Menendez’s attorney, Adam Fee

But Monteleoni reminded jurors that testimony showed investigators linked much of the money and gold to Daibes and Hana through fingerprints, DNA and serial numbers, and that many of the bank envelopes stuffed with cash were filled with bills dated after 2018, when prosecutors say the bribery scheme began.

“The question is not whether every dollar in Menendez’s house is a bribe. It’s whether the cash in his house or the other valuables are bribes,” Monteleoni said.

He accused the three defendants of acting under a right that violated the sacrosanct trust the public deserves from its elected officials.

“Menendez was elected to the United States Senate to represent the interests of the United States and its people. He cannot hold that office and at the same time act on behalf of a foreign government. But what you saw in this trial is that that is exactly what he did,” he said.

Menendez occasionally shook his head during Monteleoni’s closing argument, while most of the jurors listened attentively, sometimes taking notes.

Fee told them the senator’s actions were “legal, normal and good for his constituents and for this country.”

“The government has failed to prove a single count despite the heavy burden of proof placed on it – proof beyond a reasonable doubt,” he said.

He accused prosecutors of telling “a story” that they “constructed” during the trial whenever defense attorneys questioned the testimony of government witnesses. He urged jurors not to confuse the conclusions prosecutors hoped they would draw with “suppositions, speculations, fantasies, conjectures.”

“A one-sided story sounds convincing. So our goal throughout the trial has been to show you where the half-truths are, where the gaps in evidence are filled in by a story that is not supported by the evidence,” Fee said.

The proceedings lasted so long that Judge Sidney H. Stein interrupted the proceedings before lunch and asked the jurors and everyone else to stand for a minute for a “stretching break.”

But the fences attracted so many observers that police opened an overflow room, and relatives of the defendants — including the senator’s daughter, MSNBC anchor Alicia Menendez, and her older sister, Caridad Gonzalez, who testified in his defense last week — filled a family bench that remained largely empty throughout the nine-week trial.

Fee is expected to finish his closing arguments Wednesday, followed by closing arguments from Hana’s attorney, Lawrence Lustberg, and Daibes’ attorney, Cesar de Castro. Prosecutors will have a chance to make a rebuttal, and Stein has not yet instructed the jury, so deliberations will likely begin Thursday.

The ongoing corruption trial is the second for Menendez, 70, whose 2017 trial ended in a jury disagreement. His wife was also indicted, but Stein postponed her trial until at least August after she told the court she needed medical treatment for breast cancer.