Senator Menendez Deploys a ‘My Wife Did It’ Defense in Corruption Trial

His attorney said during opening statements it was Nadine Menendez who accepted and hid the gold bars in the couple’s home.

Elizabeth Williams, AP
Assistant U.S. Attorney Lara Pomerantz gives her opening statement in the Robert Menendez trial at New York, May 15, 2024. Elizabeth Williams, AP

During the first day of arguments in his corruption trial Wednesday, Senator Menendez of New Jersey blamed his wife, Nadine Menendez, for the couple’s accepting of money from Egyptian officials, insisting that she stashed the gold bars in her closet without the senator’s knowledge. 

Mr. Menendez is on trial for more than a dozen criminal counts, including conspiracy to commit bribery, conspiracy to commit extortion, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act, among other things in service of the Egyptian government. 

“These bribes included gold, cash, a luxury convertible, payments toward Nadine Menendez’s home mortgage, compensation for a low-or-no-show job for Nadine Menendez, home furnishings, and other things of value,” prosecutors said in their indictment press release. 

On Wednesday, Mr. Menendez’s lawyer, Avi Weitzman, argued that it was the senator’s wife — not the lawmaker himself — who is guilty of concealing the bribes. He blamed Mrs. Menendez’s financial situation that led her to lie to her husband, Mr. Weitzman said. 

She did not tell the senator “what she was asking others to give her,” Mr. Weitzman said in his opening statement, according to the New York Times. 

When the FBI searched the Menendezes’ home, they found hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of cash and $100,000 worth of gold bars. They are also accused of accepting a Mercedes Benz car from their co-conspirators, as well as mortgage payments. 

“He did not know of the gold bars that existed in that closet,” Mr. Weitzman said. He argued that Mr. Menendez is nothing more than a “lifelong public servant” who “took no bribes.”

In 2015, Mr. Menendez was indicted on charges of bribery and fraud, among other things, for his relationship with a Florida ophthalmologist, Salomon Melgen, who was accused of gifting Mr. Menendez several trips on his private jet, a stay at a Paris hotel, and a round of golf at an exclusive Florida club in exchange for personal favors.

The senator allegedly pressured the State Department to grant visas to Melgen’s girlfriends and asked the executive branch to enforce a favorable contract for the eye doctor. 

The senator’s charges were dropped in 2017 after a jury failed to reach a verdict. Melgen was later sentenced to 17 years in prison for a Medicare fraud scheme, though President Trump commuted his sentence before leaving office in 2021.


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