Bob Menendez took Mercedes-Benz as bribe, New Jersey businessman testifies

New Jersey businessman who was indicted alongside Menendez took a plea deal with prosecutors in March

Ariana Baio
Friday 07 June 2024 23:13 BST
Bob Menendez leaves Manhattan court after pleading not guilty to corruption charges

New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez interfered in a criminal investigation as a favor to a businessman who helped the senator’s then-girlfriend buy a new Mercedes-Benz convertible worth more than $60,000, a jury was told.

Jose Uribe, a former insurance broker in New Jersey, took the stand on Friday in Menendez’s corruption trial and immediately admitted that he bribed Menendez by giving Nadine Menendez money for the car in 2019.

Uribe said he wanted Menendez to use his political influence to make a New Jersey attorney general’s office investigation into two of his associates “go away.” The probe was looking into allegations of insurance fraud.

Jose Uribe leaves federal court on 27 September 2023, in New York
Jose Uribe leaves federal court on 27 September 2023, in New York (AP)

As a way to influence Menendez, Uribe helped Nadine secure a $15,000 down payment for the new car and then later, car payments, the court heard.

Uribe, who was initially indicted alongside Menendez, his wife, and two other businessmen, took a plea deal with prosecutors in March.

His testimony is crucial for the government to prove that Menendez engaged in a years-long bribery scheme, accepting lavish gifts, gold bars, and cash in exchange for wielding his influence as a senator.

“I knew that giving a car in return for influencing a United States senator to stop a criminal investigation was wrong,” Uribe told a judge in court when he pleaded guilty. “I deeply regret my actions.”

Before the alleged bribery scheme hatched, Uribe was desperate to help two of his associates out of the insurance fraud investigation, prosecutors said. Uribe told the court that he considered one of the associates to be like a family member to him.

At the same time, Nadine was allegedly desperate for a new car and had complained to Wael Hana, an Egyptian-American businessman indicted in the scheme, that she needed one after she was involved in a car crash that killed a pedestrian.

Hana connected Uribe to Nadine, and the two allegedly planned to get Nadine a car in exchange for using her then-boyfriend’s political influence to make the investigation disappear.

US Senator Bob Menendez (center right), Democrat of New Jersey, leaves with his wife Nadine Menendez the Manhattan Federal Court, in New York City following his arraignment on March 11, 2024
US Senator Bob Menendez (center right), Democrat of New Jersey, leaves with his wife Nadine Menendez the Manhattan Federal Court, in New York City following his arraignment on March 11, 2024 (AFP via Getty Images)

Prosecutors allege Menendez called Gubir Grewal, the state’s attorney general in January 2019, and raised concerns about an ongoing insurance fraud investigation – the one Uribe’s associates were involved with.

Grewal testified on Thursday that Menendez insinuated his office was improperly handling matters “involving Hispanic defendants as compared to non-Hispanic defendants” and his concern had to do with an ongoing investigation.

Three months later, Nadine was the “proud new owner” of a 2019 Mercedes-Benz C-300 convertible.

As the investigation into Uribe’s associates continued through the fall of 2019, Uribe allegedly contacted Nadine again asking her to “please help.”

In messages shown to jurors on Friday, Nadine responded, “I will not let you down.”

Menendez then met with Grewal in his office in September 2019 and raised the same concerns. Grewal testified that he told Menendez he couldn’t discuss the ongoing investigation with him.

Ultimately, the investigation continued and Uribe’s associate pleaded guilty.

Menendez, his wife, Hana, and a third businessman, Fred Daibes, are facing multiple criminal charges for their part in the bribery scheme that used Menendez’s political influence as a senator and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to obtain deals with officials in Qatar and Egypt.

All four have pleaded not guilty.

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