Bob Menendez’s Sister Said Cash Kept in House Is a ‘Cuban Thing’

(Bloomberg) -- The sister of US Senator Bob Menendez testified at his corruption trial that their Cuban family long held cash, bolstering his argument that he kept currency in his house and that nearly $500,000 seized by FBI agents wasn’t from illegal bribes.

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Caridad Gonzalez, 80, was the first defense witness called at the trial of the New Jersey Democrat, who is accused of taking bribes of cash, 13 gold bars and a Mercedes Benz from three businessmen seeking favors. She said her father hoarded cash before leaving Havana in 1951. Her brother, who was born in New York, continued the tradition, she said.

Defense lawyers seek to offer jurors an alternate explanation for why Menendez, 70, would have so much cash and gold when FBI agents raided the house he shared with his wife, Nadine, in June 2022. Nadine Menendez’s sister also testified that her family had a long tradition of storing gold bars and jewelry at home in safes or at banks.

Gonzalez said she worked as a legal secretary in the early 1980s for Menendez when he asked her to go upstairs in his home and retrieve $500. He kept it in a boot-sized box in a closet of the bedroom of his daughter, Alicia, she said.

“I counted $500 in $100 bills,” she said. Asked if she had a reaction to Menendez having a stack of cash in the box, she said: “No, it was normal. It’s a Cuban thing.”

‘Took Everything’

She said that every Cuban family that emigrated in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s repeated the pattern because “Cuba took everything away from you,” seizing assets that people worked hard to amass.

Their father, who manufactured neckties and bow ties, hid cash in a false bottom of a grandfather clock, she said.

On cross-examination by prosecutor Lara Pomerantz, Gonzalez said she didn’t know where her brother kept cash in the house that the FBI raided in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey.

After she testified, Gonzalez left the courtroom with the senator’s daughter, Alicia Menendez, now a television anchor at MSNBC who has often attended the trial.

Bob Menendez is on trial with businessmen Fred Daibes and Wael Hana, while his wife, Nadine, will be tried separately. A third businessman, Jose Uribe, pleaded guilty and testified as a prosecution witness. Besides bribery, Menendez is accused of acting as an agent of Egypt and other charges.

Jurors also heard from Nadine Menendez’s sister, Katia Tabourian, who said their parents kept gold in Beirut, where she was born. Tabourian said her sister continued to keep gold bars and jewelry before and after divorcing her first husband.

‘Bad Soap Opera’

In 2018, Menendez began dating Nadine Arslanian, as she was then known. Her sister said they had broken up by Election Day in November 2018, when Menendez was reelected. Tabourian said her sister had been in an “unhealthy relationship” with a boyfriend she had before Menendez, and she wanted to reconcile with the senator. Tabourian messaged Menendez, who replied that he could not get over her sister being with the other man.

US District Judge Sidney Stein said jurors couldn’t hear evidence suggesting the relationship had been abusive and led to Nadine Arslanian’s hospitalization.

Outside the jury’s presence, Stein told Menendez’s lawyers: “You’re not only making it a soap opera, you’re making it a bad soap opera. Domestic abuse is too hot a topic, and it’s tangential to the issues here.”

Tabourian testified that by early 2019, her sister had reconciled with the senator. They were married in 2020.

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

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