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Credibility of prosecutors' star witness comes under fire in Sen. Bob Menendez bribery trial

Businessman tells jurors he bribed Sen. Bob Menendez in 2019
Businessman tells jurors he bribed Sen. Bob Menendez in 2019 02:18

Washington — A New Jersey businessman who says he bribed Sen. Bob Menendez by buying his wife a Mercedes-Benz convertible for the purpose of disrupting two criminal investigations was grilled by defense lawyers on Tuesday, admitting to a long list of lies. 

For a third day, Jose Uribe, an insurance broker who is the prosecution's star witness, took the stand in the Democratic senator's corruption trial. The last two days, Uribe detailed how he says he bribed the senator and his wife, Nadine Menendez, in order to stop criminal investigations by the New Jersey attorney general into his business associates. On Tuesday, Uribe's credibility came under fire. 

"You're a very good liar, aren't you?" the senator's lawyer, Adam Fee, asked Uribe. 

"You are such a sophisticated liar that you know how to use documents to cover up your lies, isn't that correct, sir?" Fee added later. 

The judge sustained objections to the series of questions, and scolded defense attorneys for being "overly argumentative," warning them at one point to "change the tone." 

Defense attorneys spent much of the day highlighting Uribe's past crimes, including insurance fraud and theft by deception — state charges he pleaded guilty to more than a decade ago. Earlier this year, he pleaded guilty to seven federal charges, including conspiracy to bribe Menendez, obstruction of justice and wire fraud. 

"So you would agree that you have been committing frauds and other crimes for at least the last 13 years, correct?" Fee asked him. 

"Yes," Uribe said. 

Uribe is the only defendant to plead guilty in the case. The others, including the senator and his wife, have pleaded not guilty. Menendez is being tried alongside Wael Hana, the owner of a halal certification company, and Fred Daibes, a real estate developer — both are also accused of bribing the senator. 

During a break, when jurors were not in the courtroom, the judge ruled lawyers for Hana could not bring up "the strip clubs." 

Lawrence Lustberg, Hana's attorney, argued that it would give jurors a different perspective of Uribe, who he said has portrayed himself during the trial "like a choir boy." 

"Well, with all of the crimes he has pled to, I don't think that is really your issue," Judge Sidney Stein said. 

Uribe testified Monday that he asked the senator directly for his help with quashing the investigations during two meetings in August and September 2019.

The first meeting allegedly came months after he said he met Nadine Menendez in a restaurant parking lot, where he claims he handed her $15,000 in cash for the down payment on a luxury convertible. After that, he made monthly payments on the vehicle and sought to conceal his involvement in them, Uribe told jurors. 

"I remember saying to her, 'If your problem is a car, my problem is saving my family, and we went into the agreement of helping each other,'" Uribe said. 

During a dinner in August 2019 with the senator and his wife, the investigations were discussed, Uribe testified. An employee who Uribe considered family was under investigation and a business associate had been charged with insurance fraud. The business associate ultimately pleaded guilty and was sentenced to probation. 

"He would look into it," Uribe said of Bob Menendez's response after he asked him to "stop this investigation." "I asked him to help me get peace for me and my family." 

The second meeting, Uribe said, happened over brandy and cigars in Nadine Menendez's backyard on Sept. 5, 2019. 

The two men were alone when Bob Menendez told Uribe he had a meeting the next day at his Newark office with the New Jersey attorney general, according to Uribe. 

The senator, he said, rang a little bell sitting on the table and called for his wife using the French word for "my love." She brought out a piece of paper and returned inside, Uribe testified. Bob Menendez asked him to write down the names of the people he was concerned about, Uribe said, recalling that the senator then folded the piece of paper and put it in his pants pocket. 

Uribe said he and Bob Menendez didn't discuss the car payments during their conversations. He assumed the senator had known about the payments and he was never told by Nadine Menendez not to keep it a secret. 

The day after Bob Menendez met with New Jersey's attorney general, Nadine Menendez asked Uribe to meet the senator at his apartment building. The senator told him there was "no indication of an investigation against my family," Uribe testified. 

Uribe said he received a call from the senator on Oct. 29, 2019, when he said Menendez told him: "That thing that you asked me about, there's nothing there. I give you your peace." 

Nearly a year later, the two men were at dinner when Bob Menendez told him, "I saved your a** twice. Not once but twice," Uribe testified. 

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