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Menendez corruption trial briefly suspended due to developer’s illness

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Menendez corruption trial briefly suspended due to developer’s illness

Jun 13, 2024 | 12:24 pm ET
By Dana DiFilippo
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Menendez corruption trial briefly suspended due to developer’s illness
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Fred Daibes, an Edgewater developer, right, leaving the Daniel Patrick Moynihan Courthouse in Manhattan after pleading not guilty to federal corruption charges on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023. (Aristide Economopoulos for New Jersey Monitor)

Sen. Bob Menendez’s corruption trial is going on a two-day break after one of his co-defendants, Fred Daibes, tested positive for COVID-19.

Daibes, a real estate developer and bank founder from Edgewater, was coughing throughout Wednesday’s proceedings, which were largely focused on his role in the wide-ranging corruption case.

Judge Sidney H. Stein that Daibes canceled court for Thursday and Friday, scheduling testimony to resume Monday at the Daniel Patrick Moynihan federal courthouse. The trial is already in its fifth week of testimony.

Prosecutors have said Daibes paid Menendez cash and gold bars in expectation of New Jersey’s senior senator using his political powers to derail his bank fraud investigation.

U.S. Attorney Philip Sellinger told jurors Wednesday that Menendez, in offering to suggest he be nominated as New Jersey’s U.S. attorney, complained to him in 2020 that Daibes “was being treated unfairly” by the U.S. Attorney’s Office and asked him to “look at it (Daibes’ case) carefully” once he became U.S. attorney.

Sellinger instead told Menendez, a Democrat, that he likely would be recused from the case, because he once handled a lawsuit in which Daibes was an “adverse party” and he’d have to reveal that as a potential conflict of interest to his supervisors at the federal Department of Justice. Menendez subsequently chose a different candidate and ended his friendship with Sellinger, Sellinger testified. Sellinger got the job anyway a year later, after Menendez’s pick fell through.

Sellinger was scheduled to return to court Thursday for cross-examination.

Jurors also were expected to hear Thursday from several witnesses about prosecutors’ claims that Daibes also bribed Menendez to help him land a lucrative investment from a member of Qatar’s royal family.

Menendez did so by praising the Qatari government in an August 2021 press release — first using an encrypted messaging app to secretly share the announcement with Daibes so the developer could share it with the investor and a Qatari government official, according to the indictment. He also ushered a resolution praising Qatar through the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which he chaired at the time, prosecutors say.

The trial, which was expected to last until the end of June, is behind schedule. Stein earlier this week fretted about the trial continuing too far into July and interfering with jurors’ summer plans. He directed prosecutors and defense attorneys to cooperate more and speed up their questioning.