Prosecutors in Sen. Bob Menendez's bribery trial rest; Judge rejects defense request for acquittals

NEW YORK (AP) — Prosecutors at the bribery trial of Sen. Bob Menendez rested their case on Friday after presenting evidence for seven weeks, enabling lawyers for the Democrat and two New Jersey businessmen to begin calling their own witnesses next week to support their claims that no crimes were committed and no bribes were paid.

On their final day of direct questioning, prosecutors elicited details about the senator’s financial records by questioning an FBI forensic accountant. Judge Sidney H. Stein then dismissed jurors for the weekend. Defense attorneys are scheduled to begin presenting their case on Monday in Manhattan federal court.

Later Friday, Stein rejected requests by lawyers for all three defendants that he acquit their clients on grounds that prosecutors had failed to provide sufficient evidence to the jury for it to deliver a verdict. The requests are a routine feature of trials after prosecutors rest.

Prosecutors say gold bars and hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash found in a raid of Menendez’s home two years ago were bribes paid by three businessmen from 2018 to 2022 in return for favors that the senator, using his political power, carried out on their behalf.

Defense lawyers claim the gold belonged to his wife and that Menendez had a habit of storing cash at home after his family lost almost everything in Cuba before they moved to New York, where Menendez was born.

“The government hasn’t proven its case," the senator remarked as he left the courthouse Friday afternoon.

Menendez, 70, is on trial with two of the businessmen after a third pleaded guilty in a cooperation deal with the government and testified at the trial. Menendez’s wife, Nadine Menendez, is also charged in the case, which was unveiled last fall. Her trial has been postponed while she recovers from breast cancer surgery. All defendants have pleaded not guilty.

Menendez’s lawyers are planning to spend up to three days presenting testimony from several witnesses to support their argument that Nadine Menendez, who was Nadine Arslanian when she began dating the senator in early 2018, kept him in the dark about her financial troubles. The couple married in the fall of 2020.

The defense also plans to introduce testimony to try to show that Arslanian was in close contact with the senator at the height of the alleged conspiracy in late 2018 and early 2019 because she was being harassed by an ex-boyfriend.

Stein said Thursday that defense lawyers can elicit testimony to counter evidence introduced by prosecutors that might otherwise be interpreted to suggest that Arslanian and the senator seemed to be closely following each other’s whereabouts because they were involved in the alleged conspiracy.

But he said he wouldn’t allow the jury to hear testimony that she underwent treatment at a hospital because of an abusive relationship with an ex-boyfriend. He said Friday that a witness also cannot testify about specific acts of stalking or abuse.

“This is not going to be ‘Days of Our Lives’ or some soap opera,” the judge warned lawyers Thursday.

Larry Neumeister, The Associated Press