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New Jersey businessman who pleaded guilty to trying to bribe Sen. Bob Menendez with Mercedes testifies in corruption trial

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 key witness in the corruption trial of Sen. Bob Menendez testified Friday that he bribed the New Jersey Democrat and had given his wife, Nadine Menendez, a new Mercedes-Benz convertible, to "get the power and influence" to stop criminal investigations. 

Jose Uribe, a New Jersey insurance broker who was indicted with Menendez, pleaded guilty in March and confessed to buying a $60,000 luxury car to influence the senator. He is cooperating with prosecutors. The senator has denied accepting any bribes. 

Uribe said Friday he agreed to provide Nadine Menendez a car in exchange for the senator's help in stopping criminal investigations that the New Jersey attorney general's office was conducting into two of his associates. He testified that he bribed the senator with Wael Hana, the owner of a halal certification startup that prosecutors allege was used to pay bribes to the couple. 

Throughout the senator's corruption trial, which is in its fourth week, prosecutors have used text messages, emails, voicemails and financial records to portray the senator and his wife as collaborators in a complex bribery scheme that involved a halal meat monopoly, the Egyptian and Qatari governments and trying to influence several criminal investigations. 

The senator is being tried alongside two New Jersey businessmen — Hana and Fred Daibes, a real estate developer. All three have pleaded not guilty. Nadine Menendez's trial was delayed until later this summer as she undergoes treatment for breast cancer. She has also pleaded not guilty. 

Sen. Robert Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey, center, exits federal court in New York on Wednesday, June 5, 2024.
Sen. Robert Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey, center, exits federal court in New York on Wednesday, June 5, 2024. Alex Kent/Bloomberg via Getty Images

After Nadine Menendez was involved in a car crash that killed a pedestrian in December 2018, she complained to Hana about her lack of a car, according to text messages presented by prosecutors as evidence. Nadine Menendez was not charged in the fatality. 

Meanwhile, Uribe was desperate to help a business associate who was charged with insurance fraud and an employee who was under investigation, he said. 

"I was f****d," Uribe testified Friday. 

Hana, according to Uribe, had told him he had "a way to make these things go away" for $200,000 to $250,000, and mentioned the Menendezes. 

"What did he say about them?" prosecutor Lara Pomerantz asked. 

"He could go to Nadine," Uribe said. "Nadine will work with — go to Senator Menendez." 

In January 2019, prosecutors say, the senator called New Jersey's attorney general, Gurbir Grewal, to try to disrupt the insurance fraud case. The alleged interference didn't work, however, and Uribe's business associate eventually pleaded guilty. But the investigation into Uribe's employee, who he has said he considers to be a family member, continued. 

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. 

Uribe and Nadine Menendez came to an agreement that he would buy her the car she needed and the senator, whom she would marry the next year, would try to make the investigation go away, he told jurors. 

"She agreed to the terms," he said. 

Nadine Menendez had her new car by early April 2019, after meeting Uribe in a restaurant parking lot where he gave her $15,000 in cash for a down payment, according to the indictments. 

"Congratulations mon amour de la vie we are the proud owners of a 2019 Mercedes," she allegedly texted the senator. 

Uribe later arranged car payments, texting an associate, "I don't want to use anything with my name on it," according to messages prosecutors showed jurors.

Months later, prosecutors say Uribe texted Nadine Menendez about the employee. "Please help," the text said. 

"I will not let you down," Nadine Menendez allegedly responded. 

"We need to make things go away," Uribe said, according to prosecutors. 

The senator reached out to Grewal, the attorney general, days later to set up a meeting. 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." 

After the FBI searched the Menendezes' home in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, in June 2022, where agents discovered stacks of cash, gold bars and the Mercedes, Nadine Menendez and Uribe met to discuss what he would say if asked about the car payments, according to what he told the court when he pleaded guilty. 

"I told her that I would say a good friend of mine was in a financial situation and I was helping that friend to make the payments on the car, and when she was financially stable, she will pay me back. Nadine says something like, 'That sounds good,'" Uribe told the judge in March, according to the AP

Prosecutors say the senator then wrote a check to his wife, who then wrote one to Uribe, characterizing it as a loan. That characterization was a lie, an attempt to hide the earlier bribe, prosecutors said.

Menendez's attorneys have tried to shift any blame to his wife, arguing they lived separate lives and he was largely in the dark about her dealings with the three businessmen accused of bribing them. 

"She kept Bob sidelined from those conversations," his attorney Avi Weitzman said. 

Nathalie Nieves contributed reporting. 

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