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Wednesday, June 12, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Key witness in Menendez bribery trial says he made senator’s wife’s car payments for 3 years

Indicted bribe-payer Jose Uribe said Senator Bob Menendez quipped that he'd “saved your ass not once, but twice," during a dinner in 2020.

MANHATTAN (CN) — A New Jersey businessman who pleaded guilty to paying bribes to Senator Bob Menendez testified Monday that the Democrat politician’s interference in state criminal investigations brought him “peace” and reassurance.

“I begged him to please to do anything in his power to please stop anything that could cause any harm to my family, ” Jose Uribe said during his cooperator testimony in Menendez’s federal corruption trial.

Across two days of direct questioning by prosecutors, Uribe repeatedly explained that he paid bribes through Menendez's then-girlfriend because he wanted the senator’s official intervention to extinguish a string of looming criminal insurance fraud investigations by state prosecutors that threatened to bring unwanted exposure to the trucking insurance companies he ran with his brother and daughter.

“That was my best hope to get out of these investigations,” he said Monday.

Uribe said he paid the $15,000 down payment for Nadine Menendez’s 2019 Mercedes-Benz convertible and then handled the monthly car payments from May 2019 until June 2022, when FBI agents showed up at his home and seized his cell phones as part of a federal investigation.

The dollar amount of those monthly car payments were approximately “high 800s, low 900s,” he said.

Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., leaves Manhattan federal court, Thursday, June. 6, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura)

Uribe referred to this arrangement as “part two” of a broader deal he reached with Wael Hana, a longtime close friend of the senator’s then-girlfriend. The first part of the agreement hinged on Senator Menendez pressing for a more favorable outcome in the prosecution of Uribe’s associate, Elvis Parra, a trucking company owner who had been indicted for insurance fraud.

During testimony on Friday, Uribe explained that Hana offered a deal in 2018 to help squeeze the brakes on both Parra's case and the other ongoing New Jersey state investigations into his trucking and insurance companies for a payment of between $200,000 and $250,000.

According to Uribe, Hana planned to purchase Nadine Menendez the new luxury convertible once he got paid for that deal, but Uribe stepped up to get it done after learning she had grown frustrated with how long Hana had taken to follow through on his promise.

On Monday, Uribe recalled having a one-on-one conversation with Bob Menendez during the witness's one and only visit to Nadine Menendez’s home in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, in September 2019.

He testified that he and the senator quaffed Grand Marnier in the back patio while Nadine waited inside until the senator summoned her out by ringing a small bell.

Menendez asked him to write down the names of the parties being investigated that worried him, Uribe testified.

Uribe recalled that his conversation with the senator did not include any mention of several months of payments for Nadine’s Mercedes-Benz, but testified he had no doubt about Bob Menendez’s awareness of those payments.

“I’m sitting on Nadine’s patio talking to Mr. Menendez, asking for help for my family," he said. "I don’t think I would gotten in there without complying with commitment with Nadine.”

Later in 2019, Uribe said, Menendez reassured him that the investigations he was worried about wouldn't pose the threat to his family and business that he feared.

“That thing that you asked me about, it doesn’t seem to be anything there,” he recalled the senator telling him during a meeting at Menendez’s New Jersey apartment that fall.

The following year, Menendez again reassured Uribe that the state probes were no longer a peril, telling him in Spanish during a dinner at the Segovia restaurant that he had “saved your ass not once, but twice.”

Federal prosecutors say they found hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash stuffed in a jacket and two gold kilogram bars during a search of the New Jersey home of Sen. Bob Menendez. (Department of Justice image via Courthouse News)

Uribe briefly choked up on Monday when he described Menendez’s confirmations that his family was safe from the investigation.

“They helped me get my peace and saved my family,” he said, pausing as he was overcome with emotion. “The least I could do was send as many blessings as possible.”

Uribe made repeated references to a close friendship with Nadine.

“I called her ‘hermana’, and she called me ‘hermano,’” he said. “We consider each other brothers.”

Later on Monday, he recalled Nadine referring to him in Spanish as "tío," or uncle, to her grown daughter.

Uribe testified that after he was subpoenaed by the FBI in June 2022 as part of the federal investigation, he planned to conceal those car payments by tagging them as a loan to a friend with precarious finances.

“I wanted to cover up my wrongdoings and I thought I was going to get away with it,” he said.

Among the seven counts to which Uribe pleaded guilty in March 2024 was the obstruction of justice in connection to his efforts to cover up the bribe payments to Bob and Nadine Menendez.

Prosecutors accuse Senator Menendez of writing his wife a $23,000 check to reimburse Uribe for the Mercedes-Benz, disguised as payback for the purported personal loan.

At the end of his direct examination, Uribe said he faces up to 95 years in prison on his guilty pleas, but he’s hopeful that the judge will impose a lenient, noncustodial sentence in light of his cooperation with prosecutors.

His sentencing, previously set for June 14, has been adjourned indefinitely.

The trial, now in its fifth week, is expected to run through the first week of July.

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Categories / Criminal, Government, Politics, Trials

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