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Tuesday, June 25, 2024 | Back issues
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Private messages establish bribery scheme involving Bob Menendez’s wife, feds say

New Jersey insurance broker Jose Uribe pleaded guilty in March to buying a new Mercedes-Benz for the senator’s then-girlfriend Nadine after her previous car was totaled when she struck and killed a pedestrian in December 2018.

MANHATTAN (CN) — Prosecutors in New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez’s corruption trial on Wednesday showed jurors a trove of text messages, e-mails, and voicemails that illustrated how his wife’s desire for a new Mercedes-Benz after a 2018 crash initiated a sprawling conspiracy to pay bribes to the Democrat in exchange for a variety of official acts.

The 70-year-old politician and his wife were initially charged in September 2023 in the Southern District of New York in a grand jury indictment, that including charges of bribery, fraud, extortion and acting as a foreign agent for Egypt.

Prosecutors accuse the couple of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of bribes — including “cash, gold, payments toward a home mortgage, compensation for a low-or-no-show job, a luxury vehicle and other things of value” —  in a yearslong exchange for his political influence starting in 2018.

The public corruption trial, now in its fourth week, focused on Wednesday on the first year of that purported conspiracy, beginning with Nadine’s car accident in Bogota, New Jersey, in December 2018, followed by subsequent efforts by Egyptian-American businessman Wael Hana to induce the senator to intervene in an insurance fraud indictment against one of Hana's associates.

Nadine, whose previous car was totaled after the December 2018 crash that killed a pedestrian, told friends she wanted to buy a new Mercedes-Benz C300, but was unable to because prices were too high for her to finance monthly.

"I was looking at the C300 convertible, except my kids don’t want a convertible," she texted a friend while she was driving a rental Chevrolet in the month after the accident.

Text messages, e-mails, encrypted chat messages and voicemails entered into evidence on Wednesday laid out the timeline for federal prosecutors’ accusations that Menendez promised to exert political pressure to disrupt a New Jersey criminal case against Elvis Parra as a favor for Wael Hana and Jose Uribe, who offered to help buy a new Mercedes-Benz C300 convertible for the couple.

According to prosecutors, in exchange for the promise of the new Mercedes-Benz worth more than $60,000, Menendez contacted a senior state prosecutor at the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office who supervised Parra’s prosecution and investigation at least twice. 

“All is GREAT! I’m so excited to get a car next week!!” Nadine Menendez texted Hana in late January  2019, a few days after the senator made a call to a senior prosecutor at the New Jersey Attorney General’s office to try to pressure him for leniency in the state’s case against Parra.

In March 2019, Nadine went to a luxury car dealership in Edison, New Jersey to look at available Mercedes-Benz C300 convertibles, where she texted the senator photographs of the 2019 all-wheel-drive C300 convertible in white and black exteriors, and asked his preference of paint job.

“Like them both, whatever you prefer,” he replied in a text message shown to jurors.

A text message from Hana shown to jurors on Wednesday demonstrate that he sought financial help from trial co-defendant Fred Daibes.

“Hi Fred, can you please help Naden [Nadine] with car, thanks,” he asked the millionaire real estate developer.

According to prosecutors, Uribe ultimately provided Nadine with $15,000 cash for the down payment on the luxury convertible in April 2019. 

After the purchase was complete, Nadine messaged Senator Menendez, “Congratulations mon amour de la vie, we are the proud owners of a 2019 Mercedes.❤️” and texted him a photograph of the car.

Nadine later thanked Uribe in a text message that said she would “never forget this,” and invited him to celebrate with dinner and cigars.

Federal prosecutors accused New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez and his wife Nadine of receiving a black Mercedes-Benz C300 convertible in exchange for exerting political pressure to disrupt an insurance fraud trial of an associate of one their bribers. (Department of Justice via Courthouse News)

Parra — who was indicted by 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, but ultimately pleaded out to 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.

Uribe was charged alongside the Menendezes and Hana last year, but pleaded guilty in March, two months before the case went to trial.

Federal prosecutors in New York have also accused Hana of paying additional bribes to Menendez as part of a separate scheme to exert influence to help him maintain a lucrative monopoly over halal certification of U.S. meat exports to Egypt, which receives 70% of all U.S. beef livers.

Hana’s defense attorney, Lawrence Lustberg, insists the items given to Bob and Nadine Menendez were gifts, not bribes.

New Jersey real estate tycoon Fred Daibes was also indicted on charges accusing him of paying bribes of cash, furniture, and gold bars to the Menendezes in exchange for similar efforts to disrupt a federal case in New Jersey.

The trial is expected to run up to seven weeks through the end of the month of June.

Nadine Menendez, 58, was severed from her co-defendants’ May trial due to breast cancer requiring mastectomy surgery, and will face a separate trial this summer.

She had been dating Menendez for just under a year when she hit a man with her car on Dec. 12, 2018, in the New Jersey township of Bogota. Richard Koop, 49, died nearly instantly when he was hit while crossing the street in the dark near his home.

Then known by her maiden name, Nadine Arslanian, local police did not test her for drugs or alcohol and quickly concluded she was not at fault and allowed her to leave the scene.

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Categories / Criminal, Government, Politics, Trials

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