Judge plans May trial for US Sen. Bob Menendez in bribery case

NEW YORK (AP) — A judge is planning a spring trial for U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez and his wife, who are accused of accepting bribes of cash, gold bars and a luxury car from three New Jersey businessmen who sought the senator’s help and influence over foreign affairs.

The tentative trial date of May 6 would come just one month before New Jersey’s June 4 primary, meaning it could still be underway when voters start casting ballots on whether to return Menendez to the Senate. An attorney for the government gave the judge an estimate of four to six weeks.

An indictment last month charged the Democrat, formerly the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, with taking payouts in exchange for corrupt acts that included passing information to Egyptian military and intelligence officials. Among other things, prosecutors accused Menendez of ghostwriting a letter for Egyptian officials that sought to influence U.S. policy on military aid.

The indictment also said Menendez used his influence to try and pressure state and federal prosecutors in New Jersey into giving lenient treatment to friends or associates who were the subject of criminal investigations, and interceded with U.S. regulators to protect an associate’s business deal.

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Authorities found nearly $500,000 in cash, much of it hidden in clothing and closets, as well as more than $100,000 in gold bars in a search of the New Jersey home Menendez, 69, shares with his wife, Nadine.

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Menendez has pleaded not guilty and said the cash found in the house was personal savings he had squirreled away for emergencies.

Menendez was excused from being present for Monday’s court hearing in New York City after his lawyers said he needed to be in Washington for Senate business. The judge declined similar requests from Nadine Menendez and her co-defendants, Wael Hana, Jose Uribe and Fred Daibes. All four have also said they are innocent.

Prosecutors have accused Hana of being a conduit between Menendez and Egyptian officials. They said Hana gave Nadine Menendez a job, gave her money to make mortgage payments, wrote checks to her consulting company, promised envelopes of cash and gave her gold bars. They said Menendez used his post to facilitate foreign military sales and financing to Egypt, which gave Hana’s business a lucrative, worldwide monopoly over religious certification for imported meat.

More than half of Senate Democrats have said that Menendez should resign, including fellow New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy has as well. Menendez has said he intends to stay in the Senate, saying he is certain he will ultimately be exonerated.

Monday’s court hearing in the Menendez case took place just a short walk from where former President Donald Trump was appearing in court in a civil fraud lawsuit.

Besides setting a trial date, Judge Sidney Stein gave prosecutors a December deadline to turn over certain evidence to the defense.

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