New Jersey Democratic senator Robert Menendez has long been dogged by allegations that he is sleazy and in an earlier federal trial in 2017 for corruption he avoided conviction because a hung jury resulted in a mistrial. So it was not a surprise when an FBI raid on his home was conducted to find evidence of corruption. What did surprise me was what they found.
Gold bars worth more than $100,000. A new Mercedes-Benz convertible in the garage. Wads of cash stuffed in the pockets of a jacket with “Bob Menendez” embroidered on the breast.
Nearly half a million dollars in cash was found stuffed inside envelopes and stashed inside the pockets of clothing hanging in the closets of the Menendez’s home in Englewood Cliffs, including a big roll of bills in a jacket from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus with Menendez’s name on it.
Fingerprints belonging to the driver of co-defendant Fred Daibes were found on at least one of the envelopes, as well as his DNA and his return address, prosecutors said. “Thank you,” Nadine Menendez texted Daibes around Jan. 24, 2022, according to the indictment. “Christmas in January.”
Patrice Schiano, a former FBI forensic accountant who is currently a lecturer at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said that’s “pretty damning.”
Today, Menendez defiantly addressed the press and his explanation of why he had these things was a doozy, that he is just an old-fashioned guy who does not trust these new-fangled things like banks and believes that you need to keep your money close to you in case of some kind of apocalpyse.
In his press conference, the senator addressed the money. “For 30 years, I have withdrawn 1000s of dollars in cash from my personal savings accounts, which I have kept for emergencies and because of the history of my family facing confiscation in Cuba,” said Menendez, whose parents are from the island.
“Now this may seem old fashioned, but these were monies drawn from my personal savings accounts based on the income that I have lawfully derived over those 30 years. I look forward to addressing other issues in trial.”
So what exactly was he afraid of? The collapse of the banking system in the US? And how exactly are gold bars helpful in an emergency where you need to pay some urgent bills and the banks are closed, unless the emergency is that you need to flee the country?
In the 2017 trial, the evidence was less dramatic.
Prosecutors say the senator accepted more than $600,000 in political contributions, a luxurious hotel suite at the Park Hyatt in Paris, and free rides on a private jet from a wealthy ophthalmologist, Dr. Salomon Melgen, in exchange for political favors.
Given their failure to get a conviction previously I suspect that the FBI would be determined to make sure that they have a much stronger case this time and had, before they raided the Menendez home, already explored the possibility that all this money came from his own savings accounts.
The trial should be interesting. I look forward to other tips from the Menendez couple in the days to come about how to keep one’s money safe.