Menendez Lawyers Cite ‘Traumatic’ History to Explain His Cash Stockpile

When Senator Robert Menendez was charged last year with participating in a complex bribery scheme, news headlines highlighted a peculiar detail: Investigators had discovered more than $480,000 in cash and 13 bars of gold during a search of his house in New Jersey.

Days later, the senator offered an explanation for the cash, saying he routinely withdrew large sums of money from his savings account, a custom he said he had learned from his Cuban immigrant parents.

Now, Mr. Menendez’s lawyers have gone further, asserting that the habit was rooted in deep psychological trauma tied to his father’s suicide and a family history of confiscated property in Cuba.

They want a psychiatrist who has evaluated Mr. Menendez, 70, to testify at the senator’s federal corruption trial about what they have described as “traumatic experiences in his past associated with cash and finances.”

Mr. Menendez’s father was a compulsive gambler who died by suicide after Mr. Menendez “eventually decided to discontinue paying off his father’s gambling debts,” the senator’s lawyers said in a recent letter to the government describing the psychiatrist’s findings.

The psychiatrist’s conclusions were disclosed in detail for the first time late Wednesday in a government court filing that included the letter. In the filing, the office of Damian Williams, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, asked a judge to bar the psychiatrist, Karen B. Rosenbaum, from testifying.

The dispute over Dr. Rosenbaum’s potential testimony comes less than two weeks before the start of Mr. Menendez’s widely anticipated trial in Manhattan.

Dr. Rosenbaum would testify that Mr. Menendez’s father’s death and his parents’ history as Cuban refugees left him with a “fear of scarcity” that led to a “longstanding coping mechanism of routinely withdrawing and storing cash in his home,” the senator’s lawyers, Adam Fee and Avi Weitzman, wrote.

The prosecutors, in asking the judge, Sidney H. Stein of Federal District Court, to bar the testimony, said Dr. Rosenbaum’s opinion “does not appear to be the product of any reliable scientific principle or method.”

They also argued that having the psychiatrist testify appeared to be an “impermissible attempt” by Mr. Menendez to make sure that the jury hears about the family history he shared with the doctor, without subjecting himself to cross-examination by testifying.

The prosecutors also called it an improper effort to “engender sympathy based on his family background, in the guise of expert testimony.”

They said that, at a minimum, if Judge Stein were inclined to allow Dr. Rosenbaum to testify, the prosecution should be able to have the senator examined by a psychiatrist retained by the government.

Mr. Menendez, a Democrat and former chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is accused of accepting bribes in exchange for his willingness to use his influence to help allies in New Jersey and to aid the governments of Egypt and Qatar.

He will be tried with two New Jersey businessmen who also were accused of participating in the bribery conspiracy. The senator’s wife, Nadine Menendez, was charged as well but granted a separate trial, in July, after her lawyers said she had a serious medical condition that would require surgery and an extended period of recovery.

All four defendants have pleaded not guilty.

The indictment, which runs 66 pages, outlines a variety of schemes. But perhaps nothing has caught the public eye as much as its descriptions of the cash, gold bars and a Mercedes-Benz convertible found during a June 2022 search of the senator’s home in Edgewood Cliffs, N.J.

Investigators discovered much of the cash stuffed into envelopes and hidden in clothing, footwear, a duffel bag and a safe, according to legal filings.

After being charged in September, Mr. Menendez offered what he called an “old-fashioned” explanation for at least some of the cash discovered in the search. He said that for 30 years he had withdrawn money each week from his savings account for “emergencies.”

He told reporters that he did this “because of the history of my family facing confiscation in Cuba.”

Prosecutors, however, have said that some of the cash discovered in the house was wrapped in bands showing it had been withdrawn, at least $10,000 at a time, from a bank where neither Mr. Menendez nor his wife had an account. This was an indication “that the money had been provided to them by another person,” they wrote in court papers.

Mr. Menendez was born in New York City in 1954 to parents who had fled Cuba in the years before Fidel Castro seized control of the country. He has talked and written about growing up in a tenement apartment in Union City, a densely packed community in northern New Jersey that became a magnet for refugees of the Cuban diaspora.

His mother was a seamstress, and his father, a carpenter, died when Mr. Menendez was 23, he told The New York Times in 2005.

Dr. Rosenbaum, a forensic psychiatrist based in Manhattan, has testified in other high-profile criminal cases in New York. Reports filed with the Internal Revenue Service indicated that Mr. Menendez had used his legal defense fund to pay Dr. Rosenbaum $4,200 in late March.

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