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Gold bars in baggies and cash crammed in boots: Prosecutors detail Menendez's hoarded riches • New Jersey Monitor

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Gold bars in baggies and cash crammed in boots: Prosecutors detail Menendez's hoarded riches • New Jersey Monitor


Peek into Sen. Bob Menendez’s closets and basement, and you’ll learn he’s secretly a slob, with his and his wife’s belongings strewn around as if a typhoon just blew through.

But in 2022, that chaos hid something worse, federal prosecutors said Thursday — proof of his corruption. Jammed into jackets and boots and crammed into bags and boxes were 13 gold bars and $486,461 in cash, the fruits of five years of bribes New Jersey’s senior senator and his wife took from three businessmen hungry for Menendez’s influence, prosecutors said.

On the fourth day of the Democratic senator’s corruption trial in Manhattan, prosecutor Lara Pomerantz spent several hours chronicling the cash, gold, and other items FBI agents found during a June 16, 2022, search of the couple’s Englewood Cliffs home.

Aristotelis Kougemitros, the FBI special agent who led the search, narrated photos of the senator’s home and its hoarded riches, and Pomerantz gave the confiscated cash and gold, sealed in evidence bags, to jurors for inspection.

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Investigators found so much money in envelopes — banded together in stacks or loose in bags — that they quit photographing it and Kougemitros called for backup, he testified. Two agents arrived with an automated cash counter.

“The sheer volume of bills that we encountered was too much to count by hand,” he said.

Thursday, Pomerantz and Kougemitros took so long to list all the loot investigators found around the Menendezes’ split-level home that U.S. District Judge Sidney H. Stein stood up to stretch his legs.

Menendez lawyer Avi Weitzman had told jurors on Wednesday that the senator’s wife, Nadine, took the cash, gold, and other bribes without her husband’s knowledge and stashed much of it in her deadbolted closet and the locked safe inside it.

The senator had a habit of keeping cash at home, rooted in his experience as the son of immigrants who fled Cuba with nothing, Weitzman added. Check the money’s date, he told jurors, saying they were older bills long out of circulation that would prove Menendez collected them over decades.

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On Thursday, Pomerantz clearly sought to deflate that defense. She showed seized stacks of hundred-dollar bills with April 2022 dates stamped on the bank’s band. She told jurors most of the money was found packed into pockets of the senator’s coats and in bags in the commonly accessible basement.

The closet in question became a point of debate, with Kougemitros insisting investigators found Menendez’s navy blazer and men’s ties hanging inside the closet, suggesting it was a shared space.

But Adam Fee, a Menendez attorney, pushed back on cross-examination, countering that the blazer was hanging on the back of the master bedroom door, not inside the closet, which he said was Nadine’s alone.

The men’s ties? They belonged to a teenager who used to live in the home, Fee said, pointing to the skulls and cheese-eating mice dotting several ties. Nadine Menendez had two children from a previous marriage, including a son named Andre.

Fee asked Kougemitros if he’d ever seen the senator wear such sassy ties.

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“In fairness, I haven’t really studied photos of Senator Menendez wearing ties,” Kougemitros responded.

In court, Menendez’s ties have leaned patriotic, every day a different variation of red and blue.

Cash aside, all the gold bars the FBI seized were found in the closet, Fee said. Whoever put them there didn’t worry about their storage, photos showed. One was wrapped in a paper towel, shoved in a Ziploc bag, and left on the floor beneath other detritus.

Beyond the cash, gold bars, jewelry, air purifier, and fitness machine the couple allegedly accepted as bribes, the FBI’s photos show the couple liked luxury brands, with bags branded Prada, Giorgio Armani, Burberry, and more making appearances in the pictures.

Menendez listened to the testimony without much of a reaction, occasionally resting his cheek in his palm.

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Criminalizing friendship?

Before Pomerantz called Kougemitros as the case’s first witness, the attorneys for Menendez’s two co-defendants — Wael “Will” Hana and Fred Daibes — delivered their opening statements.

Hana is an Egyptian-American businessman and longtime friend of Nadine Menendez who prosecutors say bribed the couple with gold and cash to help him gain a monopoly on exporting halal meat to Egypt, free up military arms and aid to Egypt, and supply sensitive U.S. government information to Egyptian officials.

Daibes is an Edgewater real estate developer who prosecutors say gave Menendez gold and cash to disrupt a bank fraud investigation into him by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Jersey and help him land a lucrative investment from a member of Qatar’s royal family.

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Attorney Lawrence Lustberg, who represents Hana, told jurors prosecutors were making innocent actions look sinister by criminalizing friendships, commercial success, and advocating for one’s homeland.

Hana had been close friends with Nadine Menendez for 15 years and gave her gifts out of friendship, Lustberg said. Gold is a gift people particularly from the Middle East like to give, he added.

“Will’s gifts got nicer as his business succeeded,” Lustberg said.

Prosecutors say Hana also gave Nadine Menendez a low- or no-show job at his meat exporting business as a bribe. Lustberg conceded Hana paid her three $10,000 checks to help him set up operations in other countries as his business expanded. But she didn’t do the work, so “he fired her,” he added.

“Ask yourself – is this what a briber does?” Lustberg said.

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Attorney Cesar de Castro, who represents Daibes, echoed Lustberg’s sentiment, saying prosecutors were “sensationalizing” gift-giving. This is the argument Menendez and his friend and co-defendant, Salomon Melgen, made during their 2017 corruption trial, which ended in a hung jury.

“Investing in precious metals like gold is normal and common … gold is even sold at Costco,” de Castro said. “There’s nothing criminal about being generous.”

Fee is expected to resume his cross examination of Kougemitros Friday. Prosecutors have indicated they plan to call an FBI agent to testify Monday to talk about Menendez’s actions in Egypt.

A cancer diagnosis

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While Menendez treks to Manhattan daily to fight his second corruption case in the past decade, his wife has been home battling a medical crisis that prompted Stein to postpone her trial to at least July.

Thursday, as de Castro was defending Daibes, Menendez’s Senate staff sent out a statement revealing that Nadine Menendez has stage III breast cancer and needs a mastectomy, follow-up surgery, and possibly radiation treatment.

In the statement, Menendez said his wife decided to ask him to disclose her medical condition “as a result of constant press inquiries and reporters following my wife.”

“We are of course, concerned about the seriousness and advanced stage of the disease,” he said in the statement. “We hope and pray for the best results. We ask the press and the public to give her the time, space and privacy to deal with this challenging health condition as she undergoes surgery and recovery.”

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New Jersey

Curfews, beach tags and more: What to know before going to the Jersey Shore this summer

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Curfews, beach tags and more: What to know before going to the Jersey Shore this summer


From Philly and the Pa. suburbs to South Jersey and Delaware, what would you like WHYY News to cover? Let us know!

As Memorial Day weekend kicks off the unofficial start of summer, more than 500,000 people in the Greater Philadelphia region will be hitting the road to sunbathe and create summer memories at the Jersey Shore.

From beach tags to curfews, here’s what you need to know before you head to the South Jersey beaches this summer.

Beach hours

Beaches are not open 24 hours.

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Most beaches are open  from 6 a.m. – 10 p.m., except in Ocean City and Seaside Heights, where they are closed to the public from 8 p.m. – 5 a.m.

Do you have your beach tags?

Most towns are selling monthly, weekly, three-day or daily beach tags. The tags bring in revenue for the towns to reinvest in beach upkeep. Over the years, beach tag inspectors have become strict about enforcement.

Daily beach tags in Brigantine, Ocean City, Sea Isle City, and Cape May are $10.

In Avalon and Stone Harbor, daily beach tags are $8.



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New Jersey Devils Should Shop Their First Round Pick Similar to 2022

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New Jersey Devils Should Shop Their First Round Pick Similar to 2022


A few weeks ago, the New Jersey Devils were awarded the 10th overall pick during an anticlimactic draft lottery. Many touted prospects, including Cole Eiserman, Zayne Parekh, Zeev Buium, and Tij Iginla, could be available at 10. However, if the Devils are serious about getting back to the playoffs, they should seriously consider trading that pick away in a package deal.

This was a similar discussion a couple of summers ago when the Devils had the second overall pick in the 2022 Draft. Impactful players like Matthew Tkachuk, Alex DeBrincat, and Kevin Fiala were available via the trade market. While the Devils seemed to be in the mix for those players, none of the deals came to fruition. Ryan Novozinsky (Devils beat reporter for NJ.com) appeared on the Locked On Devils Podcast nearly two years ago and spoke about the trade speculations regarding the second overall pick.

“There was just a lot of tire kicking when it came to talks for the number two pick…I don’t think we’ll ever find out as to how close a deal was…He [Tom Fitzgerald] was interested in trading his first-rounder. Then when it became the number two pick, he was still emphasizing that… They definitely took some phone calls on it. “

– Ryan Novozinsky, Locked on Devils (2022)

Novozinsky also mentioned that the Minnesota Wild initially called the Devils regarding a possible Fiala trade for the number two pick. The Devils are currently in a unique situation. They’re not rebuilding. But they’re still a few pieces away from a deep playoff threat. Some of their priorities include adding defensive depth and a much better goalie.

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While this year’s first-round pick isn’t as high as 2022, the Devils should have no intent of holding onto it. Tom Fitzgerald should continue to shop it in a package deal to acquire an impact player. Even if that player isn’t as impactful as, say, Brady Tkachuk.



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How Are Fans Reacting To Hiring Of Sheldon Keefe as Coach Of The New Jersey Devils

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How Are Fans Reacting To Hiring Of Sheldon Keefe as Coach Of The New Jersey Devils


The New Jersey Devils finally found their new head coach in Sheldon Keefe. Keefe, recently fired in Toronto after their Round 1 loss to the Boston Bruins, was announced as the new Devils coach this week.

Most of the other contributors at Pucks and Pitchforks love Tom Fitzgerald’s decision to hire Keefe. But how about the fanbase itself? Do they love the move just as much as we do? Also, what do other fans think about this move?

Many fans had some eye-catching reactions to the move. The below person makes an excellent point about Keefe being an offensive coach who also doesn’t lose focus on a defensive end. He also had multiple playoff seasons in Toronto, while NJ has only had them once in Lindy Ruff’s tenure. This balanced reaction intrigues me about what Keefe can do in his time here.

Next, you have these two reactions, which bring up an excellent point. If Toronto fired him to inherit a scapegoat, he would be looking to try and have better success here in NJ to try and win a cup here. Plus, he is a proven head coach with a good winning percentage.

This user makes a good point by saying he can use analytics to help him make better decisions for the future. Also, mentioning the Luke Hughes/Simon Nemec pairing that can work, yet the past coaching regime felt that it didn’t work with their pairings makes it more optimistic to see what pairings Keefe can develop.

This fan also makes a good point about Tom Fitzgerald. If he hired someone who was a buddy of his or someone like Todd McLellan or Gerard Gallant, we’d be asking for him to be fired on opening night. Making a point of getting to the playoffs to prove that it’s either the failures of him or the Leafs is a nice touch.

We didn’t just ask Devils fan their thoughts. We wanted to know what Maple Leafs fans were thinking of the hire. Leafs fans have dealt with Keefe’s tenure in Toronto and know what Devils fans should expect.

First of all, Matthew Spagnulo (@matthewspanyolo) told us through a direct message, “When you think about Keefe as a head coach, he does the basics of any other coach in the NHL, but he knows how to get guys to want to play for him. Travis Dermott said it best when asked for his thoughts on Keefe when he played under him in the Marlies and the NHL. He definitely has his favorites and expects his best players to be the ones to take games for the club. (The) issues arise when trying to really command the room. Good regular season coach, but definitely needs to be able to take the reigns of accountability.”

Then, Joey Congi (@joeycongi98) said, “I think Keefe is a good player’s coach. It’s good for what the Devils need at the moment. He will coach you into the playoffs, which is what (the Devils) need. He isn’t the best with allowing young skilled and smaller players to reach their full potential. We saw that in Toronto with Nick Robertson. He was in and out of the lineup a lot and it’s really stunted his growth as a hockey player.”

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We also asked our other Fansided site, Editor In Leaf. They had some good and some bad things to say about what Keefe did as their coach.

“So Keefe is really well informed and can rattle off a ton of stats off the top of his head.  He is incredibly prepared, and yet, at the same time, I thought one of his biggest problems was that he coached on how to stop the other team more than just letting his guys fly. I would rather have a coach that takes more risks. I think Keefe coaches a pretty safe, possession-based game.  His teams hardly rush the puck or make long passes. I hated the lineups Keefe made. I think he’s a good tactician but bad at making lineups. I also think he made the mistake of making (Mitch) Marner and (Auston) Matthews play too defensively.  I often urged the Leafs to open it up and make better use of their talent. He coaches a safe, boring, low-risk game.  It’s not traditional tight defense, but it’s not wide-open, either. Lots of short passes. The stuff about ‘he can’t coach young players’ or ‘he’s too soft on players’ is total BS.”

Well, whatever your feelings are on the hiring of Keefe, the Devils are hoping that this coach will end the futility of all the bad seasons en route to their fourth Stanley Cup. Will it happen? We just have to wait and see what Keefe does in his time here.





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