Menendez’s Wife Hid Truth About Mercedes Benz, Lawyer Says

The defense attorney used his closing argument Wednesday in New York to undermine a sweeping case against Menendez, including a claim that former insurance broker Jose Uribe bribed the senator’s then-girlfriend Nadine Arslanian with the Mercedes to get him to influence two criminal investigations.

Uribe, who pleaded guilty and testified against the New Jersey Democrat, lied to jurors about making a deal with Arslanian to give her $15,000 in cash for a down payment on the car and then make monthly payments for two years, defense lawyer Adam Fee argued to jurors.

“Nadine and Jose were keeping their bargain from Bob,” Fee said in his summation following eight weeks of trial testimony. “This is not proof of a conspiracy. It is the opposite. He was not aware of the bargain.”

Fee, who began his closing arguments Tuesday, assailed Uribe’s credibility and distanced Menendez from Nadine, who is now his wife, and claimed prosecutors failed to prove the senator committed any crimes. Menendez is accused of bribery, extortion, conspiracy, honest services wire fraud, obstruction of justice and acting as a foreign agent of Egypt. His lawyer disparaged the US case as a “rolling blob of shifting and evolving inferences.”

Earlier this week, prosecutors argued the evidence is overwhelming that Menendez, a three-term senator, took 13 gold bars, nearly $500,000 in cash and the car to do favors for Uribe and two other businessmen on trial — Wael Hana and Fred Daibes. Nadine Menendez was indicted but will be tried later.

Prosecutors allege Menendez corruptly helped Egypt to secure US military aid and sensitive information; protected an Egyptian monopoly that Hana secured to inspect meat bound for Egypt; influenced a federal indictment in New Jersey of Daibes; and swayed New Jersey criminal probes of people close to Uribe.

“The prosecutors continue to tell you that Senator Menendez is a crook, a criminal, a corrupt politician, that he took a bunch of bribes,” Fee said. “They don’t have any proof of a bribe. They can’t prove to you anything more than a story where there’s no proof.”

Fee said it was a “total fantasy” for Uribe to testify that, soon after Menendez began dating Arslanian in 2018, they entered into a bribery conspiracy. Uribe, who also pleaded guilty to insurance fraud in 2011, was a serial liar who deceived Menendez about the car payments, Fee said.

“Nobody ever told Bob that Uribe was making car payments,” said Fee, who displayed a chart that said: “Nadine told Bob that she would finance the car herself.”

Uribe said he bribed Nadine Arslanian so the senator would influence an insurance fraud indictment of a friend and another criminal investigation. Former New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal testified that Menendez spoke to him twice about discrimination by prosecutors against Hispanic trucking executives, but he didn’t mention a specific case.

Fee said Menendez did nothing more than make a brief call and set up a short meeting.

No Follow-Up

“If a guy like Uribe had Bob on the take and had the threat of that hanging over” Menendez, then “wouldn’t Bob have done something more, like a follow-up call, a text, an email?” Fee said.

Fee said that prosecutors failed to prove that Menendez took any improper actions relating to Egypt.

Jurors still need to hear summations from lawyers for Daibes and Hana, as well as rebuttal arguments from a prosecutor and legal instructions from the judge. Jury deliberations are likely to begin Thursday.

Prosecutors also charge that Menendez took a bribe from Daibes, a developer, to back a Senate resolution praising Qatar so that a Qatari investment firm would finance a real estate project in New Jersey. Fee also said prosecutors failed to prove that Menendez acted with corrupt intent.

“There’s nothing even remotely controversial about Bob thanking Qatar for helping stave off a famine in Yemen,” the lawyer said. “You don’t need to pay a bribe to get that sort of thank you.”

On Tuesday, Fee tried to explain cash found by FBI agents in several rooms of the house Menendez moved into after marrying Arslanian in 2020. Fee said the senator regularly withdrew cash from a credit union in $400 amounts for decades.

“I want you to have a sense of what Bob was doing with his own cash, because I actually think it is atypical,” Fee said. “It does seem weird.”

‘Coincidence of Timing’

In his summation, Hana attorney Lawrence Lustberg argued prosecutors were overly reliant on evidence summaries that erroneously build a circumstantial bribery case.

“The government’s efforts to show a quid pro quo based on a coincidence of timing just gets it wrong,” Lustberg said.

He also said prosecutors have criminalized gifts that Hana gave to Arslanian as acts of generosity and kindness for an old friend.

“At every step of the way, the government asks you to assume the worst,” Lustberg said. “Not every action is criminal. Not every gift is a bribe.”

The case is US v. Menendez, 23-cr-490, US District Court, Southern District of New York .

This article was generated from an automated news agency feed without modifications to text.

First Published Date: 11 Jul 2024, 01:26 AM IST

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