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Thursday, July 11, 2024 | Back issues
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‘I wanted to be in the good grace of the senator,’ Menendez co-defendant testifies in bribery case

A key witness who pleaded guilty to paying bribes to U.S. Senator Bob Menendez and his wife testified for two and half hours on Friday pursuant to a cooperation deal with federal prosecutors.

MANHATTAN (CN) — The only co-defendant who took a plea deal in Bob Menendez’s bribery trial testified Friday he agreed to pay a quarter million dollars to get the New Jersey senator to “stop and kill” multiple ongoing state investigations that threatened his family and insurance brokerage business.

Jose Uribe, a former insurance broker from Clifton, New Jersey, was among three Garden State businessmen indicted last fall in the corruption case against Menendez and his wife, Nadine.

Federal prosecutors say the couple accepted bribes of cash, gold bars and a luxury car in a yearslong exchange to use Menendez’s powerful position as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations for political pressure and influence over foreign affairs.

Testifying on Friday pursuant to a cooperation federal prosecutors, Uribe recalled that of one his co-defendants — Egyptian-American entrepreneur Wael Hana — arranged for him to pay bribes to the senator so that he would "stop and kill" a trio of ongoing state investigations that would have put too much exposure on the role of Uribe’s own insurance brokerage in connection to trucking companies involved in carrying imported and exported cargo from New Jersey ports.

Uribe pleaded guilty in March to seven charges, including conspiracy to commit bribery from 2018 to 2023, honest services wire fraud, obstruction of justice and tax evasion.

Faced with subpoenas for documents from the insurance brokerage he ran with several close family members, Uribe said Hana, a longtime close friend of the senator’s then-girlfriend, offered in 2018 to help squeeze the brakes on the New Jersey state investigations for nearly a quarter million dollars.

“It was in my interest that the investigation stops in a way that it doesn’t get to my daughter and my family,” he said Friday.

“For a sum of around $250,000, he’s got a way a make these things go away,” he said, recalling Hana's promise during their meeting at a hotel bar in Teaneck, New Jersey, in April 2018.

Hana mentioned Nadine and Bob Menendez by name at that meeting, but did not disclose any specifics of “the avenues that were going to be taken to stop this investigation,” Uribe said.

“The deal is kill and stop all investigations,” Uribe texted Hana shortly after to reconfirm the terms of the deal.

He recalled that later that summer he organized a fundraiser that raised $50,000 for Menendez’s senate campaign so that the Democrat politician would be more inclined to help quash the criminal probes.

"I wanted to be in the good grace of the senator," he said.

Uribe testified he subsequently grew frustrated with Hana over his sluggishness in fulfilling the promise to shut down the investigations, which remained ongoing in the fall of 2018.

“I am fucked, man,” he wrote in one text message to Hana on October 12, 2018. “Please be sure that your friend knows about this. Just as a last favor."

Uribe testified he privately struck a deal to get Nadine a new car in March 2019 after reaching out directly to her out of desperation and disappointment with Hana’s lack of progress.

According to prosecutors, Uribe helped purchase a Mercedes-Benz C300 convertible for Nadine Menendez in the spring of 2019 after her previous car was totaled when she struck and killed a pedestrian in December 2018.

Uribe testified that Hana had promised to buy Nadine a new car after her accident but was waiting on the proceeds of their earlier deal before he could make the purchase.

On Thursday, former New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal testified that he rebuffed Menendez’s requests in 2019 to insert himself into a pending investigation by the New Jersey Office of the Insurance Fraud Prosecutor.

Uribe’s associate Elvis Parra — who was indicted by a New Jersey state grand jury in 2016 for insurance fraud related to a trucking company he owned — was set to stand trial in mid-April 2019.

Parra ultimately pleaded out to a single count of third-degree insurance fraud on April 29, 2019. Three other charges against Parra were dropped, and state prosecutors agreed to recommend noncustodial probation instead of jail time.

Hana faces additional criminal counts in connection to a scheme to pay Menendez bribes to help him keep a lucrative monopoly on certification of halal meet exports to Egypt.

Uribe said testified a shared a very close friendship with Hana, who he repeatedly referred to as “my brother” during his witness testimony and in text messages entered into evidence, but also described him at one point on Friday as “someone who is looking to kiss ass to Mr. Menendez.”

Uribe testified Friday he reached the cooperation agreement with prosecutors in February 2024.

When he formally entered his change of plea in March, Uribe told U.S. District Judge Sidney 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.”

Uribe will resume his direct testimony Monday, as the trial continues into its fifth week.

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Categories / Criminal, Government, Politics, Trials

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