New Jersey businessman tells jury that bribes paid off with Sen. Bob Menendez

Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey and 2 co-defendants arrive at court as his bribery trial continues

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NEW YORK (AP) — A New Jersey businessman who prosecutors say bribed Sen. Bob Menendez testified Monday that the Democrat told him in summer 2019 that he’d look into a state criminal probe threatening his business and later assured him there was no threat and boasted about saving him.

At the time, Jose Uribe said in Manhattan federal court, he assumed that Menendez knew he had made a $15,000 down payment and was making monthly payments on a Mercedes-Benz for Menendez’s girlfriend, who married Menendez a year later.

Prosecutors contend that the car, along with gold bars and hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash found in the couple’s Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, home, were bribes paid by three businessmen, including Uribe, to get the senator to use his influence to serve their purposes and earn them money from 2018 to 2023.

Defense lawyers for Menendez have argued that the meeting with Uribe and other evidence cited by prosecutors is nothing more than a senator meeting with constituents and doing what he can to help his state in his role as one of its representatives in Congress.

Menendez, 70, has resisted calls to step down as New Jersey’s senior senator, though he was forced out of his powerful post as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee after charges were unveiled last fall.

During Uribe’s two days of testimony, he has described meeting Menendez at a fundraiser he staged that raised $50,000 for the senator’s 2018 campaign, but he said he did not bring up the issue of investigations there or at several other meetings, including a dinner.

He said he thought the issue had already been raised with Menendez by his friend, Wael Hana, a businessman who told him in 2018 that the senator could be enlisted to help his legal troubles go away, but it would cost between $200,000 and $250,000.

Hana and a third businessman, Fred Daibes, are on trial with Menendez. Like Menendez, they have pleaded not guilty. Awaiting trial is Nadine Menendez, who is recovering from surgery. She has pleaded not guilty.

Uribe said he brought up the subject of investigations directly with the senator at an Aug. 7, 2019, dinner with Bob Menendez and Nadine Menendez, the senator’s girlfriend at the time. They married in 2020.

He said he told Bob Menendez that he was concerned that a probe of a friend’s trucking business was causing investigators to look at his insurance business and the senator said he would look into it.

“I asked him to help get peace for me and my family,” Uribe said.

A month later, Uribe said, he was invited to meet with Menendez again at their home, where he sat in the backyard with Menendez and provided facts about his company and a key employee because the senator was meeting with New Jersey officials in his office the next day.

After Menendez’s meeting with officials, Uribe said the senator told him in a brief meeting at a New Jersey apartment building: “That thing that you asked me about, it doesn’t seem to be anything there.”

In late October 2019, Uribe said he got a surprise telephone call from Menendez from a Washington D.C. phone number and was told: “That thing that you asked me about, there’s nothing there. I give you your peace.”

Uribe said he sent a text to Menendez’s girlfriend, saying: “I just got a call and I am a very happy person. God bless you and him forever.”

Uribe also recalled having dinner in August 2020 with Menendez, who boasted that he had saved him not once, but twice, involving the probes of the trucking business and the threat the investigation would spread to his insurance business.

Speaking in Spanish, Menendez said at the dinner: “I didn’t have to do much. I relayed to these people that what is this prosecution against hardworking Latinos,” Uribe testified.

Last week, former New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal testified that he cut off the senator on a phone call and in an early September 2019 meeting when Menendez tried to raise the subject of a criminal probe.

Grewal said it was his policy to always instruct people to have their defense lawyers contact trial-level prosecutors working the case or the judge if they have complaints with how a case is handled.

Grewal said the senator had complained about the treatment of Hispanics in the trucking industry as well.

After the brief meeting, Grewal said, a top official in his office who he brought alone for the meeting said: “Whoa, that was gross.”

Uribe said that without his cooperation deal and the leniency expected to come with it, he could face up to 95 years in prison for his crimes.