National

Sen. Bob Menendez reveals his wife has breast cancer as his trial focuses on FBI raid of his home

NEW YORK — (AP) — Sen. Bob Menendez said Thursday that his wife will undergo a mastectomy after she was diagnosed with breast cancer, a revelation made just as the first evidence — pictures of 13 gold bars and over $480,000 in cash seized from the couple's home — was shown to jurors at his New York bribery trial.

The New Jersey Democrat said he was revealing his wife's health crisis at her request after repeated inquiries from the media.

“We are, of course, concerned about the seriousness and advanced stage of the disease,” the senator said in a statement.

He added: “She will require follow up surgery and possibly radiation treatment. We hope and pray for the best results.”

Previously, lawyers for Nadine Menendez had requested her trial on charges in the case be delayed after she was diagnosed with what was only previously described publicly as a serious health issue.

Judge Sidney H. Stein had postponed her trial until at least July. Nadine Menendez, who married the senator two years after she began dating him in 2018, has pleaded not guilty.

One of her lawyers declined comment in response to Bob Menendez's disclosure Thursday.

The senator, on trial with two of three businessmen who allegedly paid him bribes, has pleaded not guilty to charges of bribery, fraud, extortion, obstruction of justice and acting as a foreign agent of Egypt. A third businessman has pleaded guilty in the case and will testify against the others.

Menendez's statement about his wife was released just after opening statements were completed and the presentation of evidence began at his trial in Manhattan federal court.

The trial's first witness was an FBI agent, Aristotelis Kougemitros, who described leading a June 2022 raid on the couple's Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, home.

He testified that two 1-kilogram (2.2-pound) gold bars, 11 1-ounce gold bars and $486,461 in cash were among valuables found in the home, along with cellphones and jewelry. In all, 52 items were seized.

At first, Kougemitros said, the FBI had directed agents to photograph any cash that was found, but not necessarily to seize it.

But he said that based on his experience and training, along with the “totality of the circumstances,” that he decided the amount of cash was so voluminous that it would be seized.

“I believed there was evidence potentially of a crime,” he said, drawing an objection from Menendez's lawyer that was sustained by the judge.

Through dozens of photographs and the agent's testimony, jurors were taken on a tour of the home as Kougemitros described where cash and the gold bars were discovered by a team of eight agents that was later supplemented by two Manhattan agents who brought cash-counting machines.

The gold bars were found in a safe and on the floor nearby inside locked closets in a bedroom, he said. Much of the cash was found stuffed in jacket pockets, in two pairs of boots and on a shelf in the home's basement, he said.

One pair of Timberland boots contained $14,500 in cash nearly evenly divided while another set of boots also had cash stuffed in each boot, he said.

A black jacket, which was among four jackets found to contain cash, had $21,000 in envelopes in its pockets, Kougemitros said. The other jackets, he added, had $4,300, $6,000 and $8,000.

On a shelf nearby, he said, a plastic bag contained $100,000, while another bag held $95,000.

Earlier in the day, lawyers for New Jersey real estate developer Fred Daibes and businessman Wael Hana delivered their opening remarks to jurors a day after a prosecutor and Menendez's lawyer gave opening statements.

Attorney Lawrence Lustberg, representing Hana, said prosecutors had built their case against his client on “innocent acts.”

He said Hana was longtime friends since 2009 with Nadine Menendez and that Hana and Nadine Menendez had exchanged expensive gifts over the years. He said there was never a time when Hana either directly to Bob Menendez or indirectly through Nadine Menendez gave a bribe in exchange for official acts by the senator.

Attorney Cesar De Castro, representing Daibes, told jurors the case was about relationships and prosecutors were trying to exploit facts about a three-decade friendship between the senator and Daibes to claim crimes occurred. He said they will conclude his client was not guilty.

On Wednesday, attorney Avi Weitzman, representing Bob Menendez, told jurors his client was unaware that his spouse had accepted gifts from the three businessmen and did not know about cash and gold bars hidden in a closet at their home.

The statement came after an opening statement by Assistant U.S. Attorney Lara Pomerantz in which the prosecutor repeatedly highlighted the gold bars and cash found in the home.

Menendez has held public office continuously since 1986, serving as a state legislator before 14 years as a U.S. congressman. In 2006, then-Gov. Jon Corzine appointed Menendez to the Senate seat he vacated when he became governor.

The trial, which began Monday, is projected to last up to two months.

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Catalini reported from Trenton, New Jersey.

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