Sen. Bob Menendez exploited an ethics loophole to amass the nearly $500,000 in cash which federal agents found stuffed in jacket pockets, envelopes and a safe when they raided his home last year, The Post has learned.
The embattled New Jersey Democrat, who was indicted on bribery charges last week, said Monday that he had withdrawn the cash from his savings accounts throughout his 30-year career, first in the House then the Senate.
Disclosure rules require senators to file annual forms that list liabilities, interest-bearing assets and gifts worth more than $100. But they do not have to list cash they hold — although they could if they wanted to.
That means that if Menendez — as he claims — made personal bank withdrawals and piled up the cash at home, he did not have to tell voters about it, although he could have. Years of his ethics disclosures reviewed by The Post never mentioned a cash pile.
Menendez made the jaw-dropping claim Monday that he hoarded the vast amounts of cash because his parents were Cuban.
“For 30 years I have withdrawn thousands of dollars in cash from my personal savings account which I have kept for emergencies and because of the history of my family facing confiscation in Cuba,” Menendez said at a press conference in his hometown of Union City.
“Now this may seem old-fashioned, but these were monies drawn from my personal savings account based on the income that I have lawfully derived over those 30 years.”
Menendez, 69, was born in New York to impoverished Cuban immigrants Mario and Evangelina Menendez in 1954.
He has told with pride how his parents left Cuba in 1953 — which was six years before Fidel Castro came to power and began confiscating personal property on the Communist island — for a better life.
Among those who ridiculed his claim were fellow Democratic senator John Fetterman (PA) who tweeted: “We have an extra flashlight for our home emergencies.”
Menendez’s press conference set off a series of top Democrats including Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi and fellow New Jersey senator Cory Booker telling him to resign.
The extraordinary loophole allowing lawmakers to secretly hold piles of cash was used before, when federal authorities found $90,000 in cash in then-Louisiana Democratic Congressman William Jefferson’ freezer.
Although Jefferson was convicted of bribery in 2009, a House ethics committee quietly shelved an investigation into whether he had declared the cash on his disclosure forms.
A judge threw out the conviction in 2017 and Jefferson was released from prison, part-way through his 13-year sentence.
In Menendez’s case federal prosecutors said in the indictment against him that some of the cash they seized from his Englewood Cliffs home was in envelopes bearing the DNA and fingerprints of his co-accused political benefactor Fred Daibes, a New Jersey businessman.
Menendez’s defense will now have to produce 30 years of bank records to show cash withdrawals adding up to the more than $480,000 — the precise amount has not been disclosed — the FBI found, and which prosecutors allege were bribes.
“The problem for Menendez is that there are fingerprints on the envelopes, and prosecutors can check the serial number on the bills to find out when they were issued,” said a campaign finance expert who did not want to be identified.
“If he was withdrawing cash over the years there has to be a paper trail from the banks involved.”
The indictment against Menendez is the second. He was indicted in a bribery scandal in 2015, but after a hung jury in his first trial, federal prosecutors in New Jersey abandoned plans for a retrial early in 2018.
Menendez’s disclosures of his assets have shown the same pattern for years, detailing between $100,001-$250,000 in bank deposits at the Senate Federal Credit Union, and up to $50,000 deposited at M&T bank in Hoboken, NJ.
However in March 2022, he made a significant change in that pattern, by declaring that his wife Nadine Arslanian Menendez had “personal property” of up to $250,000 in gold bars, which were sold in four separate transactions between April and June, 2022, according to federal filings.
The gold was first listed on the senator’s financial disclosures in an amended filing for the year 2020 — when he married Nadine Arslanian. That report was sent to the senate ethics office in March, 2022.
During his Monday press statement, Menendez did not comment on the gold bars, worth more than $150,000 that federal agents seized during the raid on his home in June, 2022.
Abbe Lowell, a Washington DC attorney representing Mendez, did not return a request for comment Tuesday.