By Jonathan Dienst, Courtney Copenhagen, Tom Winter and Zoë Richards — NBC News
At least four of the gold bars found during an FBI search of Sen. Bob Menendez's home have been directly linked to a New Jersey businessman accused of bribing the state's longest-serving senator, Bergen County District Attorney records show from a 2013 burglary case.
Businessman Fred Daibes reported in 2013 that he had been the victim of an armed robbery and asked the police to recover the gold bars that had been taken from him. Daibes said $500,000 in cash and 22 bars of the yellow metal had been stolen from him in Edgewater, New Jersey, records showed. Authorities later arrested four people with those belongings.
To get everything back, Daibes signed "assignment of ownership forms" certifying that the gold bars belonged to him, according to records.
U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Damian Williams shows what the FBI found in Sen. Bob Menendez's home.
"Each gold bar has its own serial number," Daibes told investigators in a 2013 statement by prosecutors and police who recovered and returned all the stolen valuables to the businessman. "They're all marked... You'll never see two brands alike."
A decade later, the FBI found four gold bars with unique serial numbers at the home of Menendez and his wife, Nadine, in Clifton, New Jersey.
In this year's bribery indictment against Menendez and Daibes, prosecutors included photos of some of the alleged bribes found in the senator's home, including four gold bars. The serial numbers on these appear to exactly match the ones Daibes certified had been stolen and returned to him in 2013.
For example, a Swiss Bank Corp. gold bar with serial number 590005 that the FBI says was seized from Menendez's home in a search earlier this year had also been reported stolen by Daibes — and returned to him — a decade earlier. The entrepreneur's signature and initials appear on the evidence register, which included each specific bar with its corresponding serial number.
"It's all bad news for Sen. Menendez, because the chain of custody — it looks like it's going to be very easy to prove," said Danny Cevallos, a legal analyst for NBC.
It was November 2013 when Daibes, a real estate millionaire, told police he had been robbed at gunpoint at his penthouse in Edgewater, saying he had been tied to a chair while the thieves made off with cash, gold and jewelry.
The four suspects were quickly captured and later pleaded guilty. Daibes attended the trial as a victim. On December 13, 2013, the businessman signed documents to retrieve his belongings, including gold bars.
Cevallos asserted that if Daibes, in fact, gave gold bars to Bob and Nadine Menendez, that alone does not prove the crime of bribery.
"Was there a quid pro quo? Was it in exchange for official acts by the senator or promises of the same?" asked Cevallos.
The FBI indicated that the quid pro quo between Menendez and Daibes included efforts by the senator to influence the New Jersey U.S. attorney's office, which in 2018 was investigating the businessman in connection with a separate crime of bank fraud.
Daibes and Menendez, along with co-defendants Nadine Menendez, Wael Hana and Jose Uribe, deny any wrongdoing and have pleaded not guilty.
In a statement about linking the gold bars found in his home to a decade-old robbery, the senator's lawyer said he would not comment "on anonymous leaks to the media intended to prejudice his right to a fair trial."
Federal investigators allege that Democratic Senator Bob Menendez received bribes in the form of gold bullion. U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York
Menendez has denied taking bribes from Daibes even though prosecutors allege evidence shows the businessman's fingerprints and DNA are on some of the tens of thousands of dollars in cash found at the politician's home.
"For 30 years I have withdrawn thousands of dollars in cash from my personal savings account, which I have saved for emergencies, because of my family's history of facing confiscation in Cuba," Menendez explained.
The senator and his wife are also accused of taking bribes from Hana, a businessman, the FBI said. In return, according to investigators, Menendez used his position as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to help him secure an exclusive halal meat inspection contract with the Egyptian government. They also claimed that, in exchange for bribes, the politician tried to help the authorities of that country with the sale of weapons.
Prosecutors say Menendez also accepted a Mercedes and other bribes from Uribe. In return, according to prosecutors, the senator offered to try to help him with an ongoing investigation by the state attorney general.
As for Daibes' separate bank fraud case, a federal judge in New Jersey vacated a plea deal in which he pleaded guilty to one count and faced probation after new bribery charges came to light.
A lawyer for Daibes said he was confident his client "will be exonerated when all the evidence is heard."
"The accusations against me are just that: accusations," Menendez said at a news conference in his home state in September, after the bribery allegation was unveiled.