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Menendez trial set for May 6, one month before 2024 primaries

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Menendez trial set for May 6, one month before 2024 primaries

Oct 02, 2023 | 6:19 pm ET
By Sophie Nieto-Munoz
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Menendez trial set for May 6, one month before 2024 primaries
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If the proposed start of the trial holds, Sen. Bob Menendez could be on trial as Democratic voters decide whether to return him to the Senate. (Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

The judge overseeing Sen. Bob Menendez’s federal corruption case set his trial date for May 6, 2024, less than a month before Menendez is slated to go before voters if he seeks a new term.

Meanwhile, federal prosecutors say they have such a “voluminous” trove of documents — including classified material — that they’re concerned about how much time it will take them to sift through it. 

The revelations came Monday in a federal courtroom in Manhattan during a hearing in the wide-ranging corruption case. Menendez, a Democrat, is accused of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars, including gold bars and a luxury car, in bribes in exchange for his political influence.

This is the second time Menendez has been charged by federal prosecutors with taking bribes. His first corruption trial ended in a hung jury in 2017.

Menendez was permitted not to appear in court Monday, but his wife, Nadine, and the three men accused of bribing him — Will Hana, Fred Daibes, and Jose Uribe — were all present with their attorneys. 

The five co-defendants pleaded not guilty at their first court appearances last week and were released on bond. Neither the defendants nor their attorneys spoke to reporters outside the courthouse Monday.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Monteleoni told U.S. District Court Judge Sidney Stein that the investigation into Menendez’s dealings is ongoing. Attorneys are combing through 50 devices and accounts, including “several thousands” of pages of documents, and issuing hundreds of subpoenas, he said. There is so much material, he added, that prosecutors plan to build a searchable database. 

Most of the evidence will be presented to the defense by Dec. 4, and the last date for motions will be Jan. 8, Stein said.

The trial is expected to last four to six weeks, meaning voters could be casting their ballots as it is ongoing.

It’s not clear whether Menendez’s current legal woes will lead him not to stand for reelection next year. He has said he will not resign from the U.S. Senate, despite calls urging him to do so from many of his fellow Democrats, including Sen. Cory Booker and Gov. Phil Murphy. 

Monteleoni noted two issues prosecutors have with the defense attorneys. They will need approval ahead of receiving classified information, which could result in litigation, and one of the attorneys may eventually become a witness, Monteleoni said.

Lawrence Lustberg, attorney for Hana, also represents Daibes in another case, Monteleoni said. Lustberg may have been privy to some information that could come up later during the Menendez trial, Monteleoni added. He also indicated the number of co-defendants could change. 

Daniel Ornato, attorney for Nadine Menendez, in court called the proposed timeframe for a trial “appropriately aggressive” considering the complexity of the documents. Roberto Finzi, representing Daibes, said it’s “awfully ambitious, but let’s see what happens.”

“We really are getting our arms around this now,” said Lustberg. 

Menendez’s last corruption trial started nearly two and a half years after he was indicted.