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New Jersey businessman pleads guilty, agrees to cooperate in Sen. Bob Menendez's corruption case

N.J. businessman pleads guilty, agrees to cooperate in case against Sen. Menendez
N.J. businessman pleads guilty, agrees to cooperate in case against Sen. Menendez 00:29

NEW YORK — A New Jersey businessman pleaded guilty Friday to trying to bribe U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, admitting that he gave the senator's wife a car to influence him and agreeing to a deal with prosecutors that calls for him to testify in the corruption case against the powerful Democrat.

Jose Uribe, of Clifton, New Jersey, entered the plea in Manhattan federal court to seven charges, including conspiracy to commit bribery from 2018 to 2023, honest services wire fraud, obstruction of justice and tax evasion.

As he described his crimes in court, Uribe told Judge Sidney H. Stein that he conspired with several people, including Nadine Menendez, to provide her with a Mercedes-Benz in return for her husband "using his power and influence as a United States senator to get a favorable outcome and to stop all investigations related to one of my associates."

He said he also hoped the gift would, if necessary, stop a "possible investigation into another person who I considered to be a member of my family," according to a transcript of the proceeding, which the media was not told about before it happened.

Uribe said he made certain payments on the Mercedes "in a manner to conceal my involvement because I knew it was wrong. I knew that giving a car in return for influencing a United States senator to stop a criminal investigation was wrong, and I deeply regret my actions."

According to a plea agreement, Uribe could face up to 95 years in prison, though he could win leniency by cooperating and testifying against the other defendants, which he's agreed to do. He also agreed to forfeit $246,000, representing proceeds traceable to his crimes.

Uribe was among three businessmen charged in the corruption case against Menendez and his wife, which was revealed last fall. Authorities say the couple accepted bribes of cash, gold bars and the luxury car in exchange for his help and influence over foreign affairs.

The defendants have pleaded not guilty.

Uribe remains free on a $1 million bond, which was set when he was arrested. His plea deal, dated Thursday, was signed by him on Friday.

Uribe's attorney, Daniel Fetterman, declined to comment. David Schertler, a lawyer for Nadine Menendez, declined to comment. Lawyers for the senator did not immediately comment.

Menendez, his wife and the two other New Jersey businessmen are scheduled to go on trial in May.

Federal prosecutors allege that Menendez, the former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, used his position to take actions that benefited foreign governments in exchange for bribes paid by associates in New Jersey.

An indictment contends that Menendez and his wife took gold bars and cash from a real estate developer, and that the senator used his clout to get that businessman a multimillion-dollar deal with a Qatari investment fund.

Menendez is also accused of helping another New Jersey business associate get a lucrative deal with the government of Egypt. Prosecutors allege that in exchange for bribes, Menendez did things that benefited Egypt, including ghostwriting a letter to fellow senators encouraging them to lift a hold on $300 million in aid.

Menendez also has been charged with using his international clout to help a friend get a multimillion-dollar deal with a Qatari investment fund, including by taking actions favorable to Qatar's government.

Uribe was accused of buying a luxury car for Nadine Menendez after her previous car was destroyed when she struck and killed a man crossing the street. She did not face criminal charges in connection with that crash.

The indictment has said the senator helped Uribe by trying to persuade prosecutors to go easy on one of his business associates who was the subject of a criminal investigation.

Uribe provided more information about his involvement in obstruction of justice crimes from June 2022 to 2023 during his plea hearing Friday, saying that after investigators sent him a subpoena related to the probe of the senator, Nadine Menendez contacted him through another individual.

He said he met with her later that afternoon at a Marriott hotel, where she asked him what he as going to say if somebody asked him about the car payments.

"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.

He said he later told his attorneys the same version of what happened and they transmitted that "false story" to prosecutors with his approval.

"Late in 2022, I received a check from Nadine paying me back for the car payments. I then deposited the check," he said.

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