Watch CBS News

Key witness says he asked New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez directly for help

Key prosecution witness testifies he bribed Sen. Bob Menendez, wife Nadine
Key prosecution witness testifies he bribed Sen. Bob Menendez, wife Nadine 00:38

Washington — A New Jersey businessman who has claimed he bribed Sen. Bob Menendez testified Monday that the Democrat told him in the summer of 2019 that he'd look into a state criminal probe threatening his business and later assured him there was no threat and boasted about saving him.

The businessman, Jose Uribe, said in Manhattan federal court that at the time he assumed Menendez knew he had made a $15,000 down payment and was making monthly payments on a Mercedes-Benz for Menendez's girlfriend, Nadine Menendez, who married Menendez a year later.

Uribe, a New Jersey insurance broker, pleaded guilty in March and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in the case against Menendez, who has pleaded not guilty and has denied accepting any bribes. 

Uribe told jurors last week that he bought her the car in exchange for the senator's "power and influence" to stop criminal investigations into his business associates. In 2018, Uribe was desperate to help a business associate who was charged with insurance fraud and an employee who was under investigation. 

"I was f****d," Uribe said Friday. 

Uribe said his friend, Wael Hana, who is on trial with Menendez, told him he had "a way to make these things go away" for $200,000 to $250,000, and mentioned the Menendezes. 

Uribe said he repeatedly messaged Hana for reassurance that the issue would be resolved favorably by the senator, but he was losing hope that Hana was following through on his part. So he approached Nadine Menendez himself in March 2019 with an offer: "I will provide the car as long as she helps me," he said. 

Nadine Menendez was in need of a car after a December 2018 crash, and had complained to Hana about her lack of a vehicle. 

Uribe testified Monday that he brought up the subject of investigations directly with the senator at a dinner on Aug. 7, 2019 with him and Nadine Menendez. He said he told Menendez that he was concerned that a probe into a friend's trucking business was causing investigators to look at his insurance business and the senator said he would look into it.

"I asked him to help get peace for me and my family," Uribe said.

A month later, Uribe said, he was invited to meet with Menendez again at their home, where he sat in the backyard with Menendez and provided facts about his company and a key employee because the senator was meeting with New Jersey officials in his office the next day.

After Menendez's meeting with officials, Uribe said the senator told him in a brief meeting at a New Jersey apartment building that "that thing that you asked me about, it doesn't seem to be anything there," according to Uribe.

In late October 2019, Uribe said he got a surprise telephone call from Menendez from a Washington D.C. phone number and was told, "That thing that you asked me about, there's nothing there. I give you your peace."

Uribe said he sent a text to Menendez's girlfriend, saying: "I just got a call and I am a very happy person. God bless you and him forever."

Uribe also recalled having dinner in August 2020 with Menendez, who boasted that he had saved him not once, but twice, involving the probes of the trucking business and the threat the investigation would spread to his insurance business.

Speaking in Spanish, Menendez said at the dinner: "I didn't have to do much. I relayed to these people that what is this prosecution against hardworking Latinos," Uribe testified.

Prosecutors allege Menendez called New Jersey state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal to try to disrupt the insurance fraud case in January 2019. Uribe's business associate eventually pleaded guilty, however. But the investigation into Uribe's employee, whom he considers to be a daughter, continued. 

Last week, Grewal testified about the January 2019 call with Menendez and the September 2019 meeting at the senator's Newark office. 

The call was short and Menendez "raised a concern about my office's handling of matters involving Hispanic defendants as compared to non-Hispanic defendants —in particular, matters handled by the office of the insurance fraud prosecutor," Grewal said, adding that he asked Menendez if the concern was "about a pending criminal manner, to which he responded, 'yes.'" 

Grewal brought another attorney from his office to the September meeting in which Menendez again raised the issue, he testified. 

"I can't talk to you about this," Grewal recalled telling Menendez. 

Once the two left the meeting with Menendez, Grewal said the other attorney turned to him and said, "Whoa, that was gross." 

When asked by Menendez's attorney whether the senator threatened him, Grewal said no. 

Menendez is being tried alongside Hana, the owner of a halal certification company, and Fred Daibes, a real estate developer. Hana and Daibes, who are accused of trying to bribe the senator, have also pleaded not guilty. 

The judge postponed Nadine Menendez's trial until later this summer because she is being treated for breast cancer. She has also pleaded not guilty.  

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.