Menendez Trial’s Odd Moments: Pyramids, French Nicknames and a Bell

The bribery case against Senator Robert Menendez features an assortment of exotic elements: Qatari sheikhs, bricks of gold bullion, halal meat certification and Egyptian intelligence officers. Trial testimony has taken jurors from Cairo to Havana to Beirut.

But on top of the complex — and serious — corruption charges, the trial has at times meandered into offbeat and sometimes humorous territory.

Here are a few of the more memorable moments:

Jose Uribe, a disgraced insurance broker, pleaded guilty in March to providing the senator’s wife, Nadine Menendez, with a Mercedes-Benz in exchange for the senator’s help quashing two insurance fraud investigations in New Jersey.

He spent nearly a week on the witness stand, and his testimony included a description of a private, hourlong meeting with Mr. Menendez on the back patio of Ms. Menendez’s home in Englewood Cliffs, N.J.

Toward the end of the conversation, the senator picked up a small bell on the table and rang it, summoning Ms. Menendez from inside the house, Mr. Uribe testified.

Mr. Menendez’s lawyer, Adam Fee, pelted Mr. Uribe on cross-examination, questioning how much he had had to drink and when he had taken Xanax that day in an effort to plant doubt that the bell even existed.

Did Mr. Uribe, Mr. Fee asked, text any of his friends to say, “Hey, it was super weird when Senator Menendez rang a bell to summon Nadine?”

On Tuesday, a prosecutor, Paul M. Monteleoni, reminded jurors about the bell during his closing argument, stressing that a detail-focused senator who used a bell to call his wife would have also been aware of the gold bars and cash-stuffed envelopes the F.B.I. found in her locked bedroom closet.

“That bell, by the way, showed you that Menendez was in charge,” Mr. Monteleoni said. “He’s not a puppet having his strings pulled by someone he summons with a bell.”

An F.B.I. investigator, Terrie Williams-Thompson, testified that she was part of a surveillance team assigned to an undercover operation at Morton’s The Steakhouse, one of Mr. Menendez’s favorite Washington restaurants. The target that night in May 2019 was not the senator, Ms. Williams-Thompson said, but rather someone he happened to be eating dinner with.

Ms. Williams-Thompson and another member of the F.B.I. sat nearby and pretended to be a married couple snapping selfies. She testified that she overheard Ms. Menendez ask an Egyptian official a question that, years later, would make its way into an indictment charging her and her husband with being at the center of a five-year, international bribery conspiracy: “What else can the love of my life do for you?”

The judge, Sidney H. Stein, injected a light moment into the testimony, as he has frequently done during the two-month trial.

“I hope the F.B.I. paid for your meal,” he told Ms. Williams-Thompson.

“Oh yes, sir, they did.”

Prosecutors used thousands of text messages extracted from seized cellphones to build their 18-count case against Mr. Menendez and his co-defendants.

Jurors have been shown hundreds of the electronic exchanges in charts that took days to introduce as evidence. Many of the electronic exchanges include typos, shorthand phrases and emojis. At least two mention pyramids.

In September 2021, Ms. Menendez and her longtime friend, Wael Hana, had had a falling out. Mr. Hana, an Egyptian American businessmen, had founded a halal meat certification company that prosecutors say was used to funnel bribes to the senator and his wife.

Ms. Menendez expressed her frustration over a broken promise by Mr. Hana.

“I am not going to get angry or get any more upset,” she wrote in a text to her husband, “but one day I really would love to know one of the pyramids collapsed and he is trapped forever.”

More than one defense lawyer pounced on the wording, noting that the tension undermined prosecutors’ charge that their clients were part of a cohesive group of conspirators.

Ms. Menendez also mentioned pyramids in a conversation with Mai Abdelmaguid, an Egyptian intelligence officer who had urged the senator and his wife to visit Egypt.

“Is there any chance he can sit on a camel in Egypt?” Ms. Menendez asked. “I’m dying for him to be on a camel. My first time ever on a camel was at the pyramids.”

Ms. Menendez emigrated with her family from Lebanon as a child. She is fluent in English but speaks several languages, including French, which she has said was her native language.

The couple’s texts are laced with affectionate pet names, often emphasized with heart emojis and usually in French.

“Mon amour de la vie,” is a common moniker, sometimes shortened to simply “mon amour.”

“Laundry is done mon amour,” she wrote in March 2019, months before they got engaged in India, outside the Taj Mahal.

The senator frequently borrowed the phrase, too: “Merci mon amour,” he wrote in April 2019.

After driving home in the $60,000 Mercedes that Mr. Uribe arranged, she sent Mr. Menendez a text that is likely to outlast the car.

“Congratulations mon amour de la vie,” she wrote, “we are the proud owners of a 2019 Mercedes.❤️”

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