Bob Menendez's defense rests without New Jersey senator testifying in bribery trial

Bob Menendez’s defense rests without New Jersey senator testifying in bribery trial

Defense rests in bribery trial of New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez

Defense rests in bribery trial of New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez


Washington — Attorneys for Sen. Bob Menendez concluded calling witnesses on Wednesday, opting not to have the New Jersey Democrat take the stand in his own defense as he fights allegations that he traded political favors for gold bars and cash. 

While leaving court, Menendez said it did not make “any sense” for him to testify. “From my perspective, the government has failed to prove every aspect of its case,” he said. 

A handful of witnesses testified on his behalf, compared to the 30 witnesses called by the prosecution during the trial, which has so far spanned eight weeks.

his sister and the sister of his wife, Nadine Menendez, to testify on Monday as they sought to show it was not unusual for the couple to keep gold and large amounts of cash in their home. 

When federal investigators executed a search warrant at Menendez’s home in June 2022, they found more than $480,000 in cash stashed in envelopes, coats, shoes and bags, as well as 13 gold bars worth more than $100,000. 

Menendez, who has pleaded not guilty, is charged with bribery, extortion, wire fraud, obstruction of justice and acting as a foreign agent for Egypt. Nadine Menendez has also pleaded not guilty. Her trial was postponed until August as she recovers from breast cancer surgery. 

The senator’s older sister, Caridad Gonzalez, told jurors that their parents and aunt had a practice of storing cash at home after their family fled persecution in Cuba in 1951, before Menendez was born. She called the habit “a Cuban thing.” 

“Daddy always said don’t trust the banks,” Gonzalez said. “If you trust the banks, you never know what can happen, so you must always have money at home.” 

Criminal Trial For US Senator Bob Menendez
Senator Robert Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey, exits federal court in New York on June 10, 2024.

Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg via Getty Images

She recalled finding a stash of cash in a shoebox in Menendez’s home in the 1980s. 

But prosecutors undercut one of the points made by Gonzalez after she testified that she asked her brother to help a neighbor with an immigration issue. Prosecutors showed text messages between the senator and his sister that suggest he did not give that issue the same treatment that prosecutors say the businessmen who bribed the couple got. 

The businessmen, Wael Hana and Fred Daibes, are on trial with the senator. They have also pleaded not guilty. 

When they asked Menendez for help, he allegedly pressured a U.S. Department of Agriculture official to protect Hana’s halal certification monopoly and interfered in a criminal case in New Jersey involving Daibes, according to prosecutors. 

Russell Richardson, a forensic accountant, testified that Menendez withdrew about $400 in cash almost every few weeks from 2008 to 2022, totaling more than $150,000. 

The testimony was meant to bolster Menendez’s explanation that he withdrew thousands of dollars in cash from his bank account over decades because of his family’s experience in Cuba. 

Richardson testified during cross-examination that he did not find any record of Menendez withdrawing $10,000 in cash at one time. Some of the cash seized from Menendez’s home was found in bundles of $10,000, and Daibes’ fingerprints were found on some of the envelopes containing the cash. 

Part of Menendez’s defense strategy has been to pin the blame on his wife, claiming the senator was unaware of his wife’s financial challenges and her dealings with the businessmen accused of bribing them. 

Nadine Menendez’s younger sister, Katia Tabourian, testified that her sister and the senator broke up in late 2018 because her sister’s ex-boyfriend “was creating a lot of chaos in her relationship with the senator.” Menendez’s lawyers say the couple could not have plotted together during the pause in their relationship. 

Tabourian confirmed that her sister locked her bedroom closet, which Menendez’s lawyers said he did not have a key to. Investigators found gold bars and cash in the closet during the 2022 search. Tabourian said it was common for her family to give cash, gold and jewelry as gifts. 

Jurors are expected to have the case by the end of next week, following testimony from Hana’s witnesses and closing arguments. Daibes’ legal team rested Wednesday without presenting a defense. 

—Ash Kalmar and Christine Sloan contributed reporting. 

Caitlin Yilek