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Businessman Says He Asked Senator Menendez Directly for His Help

Jose Uribe, the businessman who has said he bribed Senator Robert Menendez in return for his help in quashing criminal matters involving two of Mr. Uribe’s friends, testified on Monday that he directly asked the senator for his help and that Mr. Menendez said he would “look into it.”

Mr. Uribe said his request to Mr. Menendez came after he learned that a detective, during an insurance fraud investigation, sought to interview a young woman who Mr. Uribe considered to be like his daughter. Mr. Uribe said he asked Mr. Menendez at an Aug. 7, 2019, dinner at a New Jersey restaurant to do “anything in his power” to try to stop the inquiry before it reached her.

“I asked him to help me get peace for me and my family,” Mr. Uribe testified at Mr. Menendez’s corruption trial in Federal District Court in Manhattan.

It was the fifth time Mr. Uribe has said he had socialized with the senator — but the first time that he brought up the criminal investigation that he wanted ended. Mr. Uribe testified that Mr. Menendez seemed aware of the details of the criminal matter. But he also said the men never discussed the thousands of dollars in car payments Mr. Uribe had been making for a Mercedes-Benz convertible that, months earlier, he had provided to Mr. Menendez’s soon-to-be wife, Nadine.

“I never talked to Mr. Menendez about making payments for the car,” Mr. Uribe testified.

Mr. Uribe, who has emerged as the prosecution’s chief witness in Mr. Menendez’s federal corruption trial, said he assumed Mr. Menendez would have known he was providing the financial assistance to Ms. Menendez because she had been trying repeatedly to set up a meeting for Mr. Uribe with the senator, so Mr. Uribe could seek his help in blocking the state investigation.

“The only reason why she’s trying,” Mr. Uribe said, “is I’m complying with my part of the deal.”

Mr. Menendez, 70, and Ms. Menendez, 57, have both been charged with conspiring to take cash, gold, the Mercedes and other bribes collectively worth hundreds of thousands of dollars in return for the senator’s agreeing to dispense political favors at home and abroad.

Mr. Uribe, in detailing one of those alleged favors in testimony on Friday, said he had been deeply concerned about the insurance fraud investigation, which was being conducted by the New Jersey attorney general. He said the investigation was threatening to pull in the young woman, and he said he initially raised the issue with a man named Wael Hana, who had long been his and Ms. Menendez’s friend.

Mr. Hana told Mr. Uribe that in return for $200,000 to $250,000, he had “a way to make these things go away,” Mr. Uribe said.

“He could go to Nadine,” Mr. Uribe testified. “Nadine will go to Senator Menendez.”

Mr. Uribe, frustrated at the lack of any progress by Mr. Hana, said he eventually called Ms. Menendez directly, offering to buy her the Mercedes if she would intervene with her husband on his behalf.

Mr. Uribe testified that in later encounters with the senator — including at a fund-raiser Mr. Uribe said he organized for the senator to stay in his “good graces” — he did not broach the subject of the alleged deal with Mr. Menendez.

Prosecutors have not yet asked Mr. Uribe about a brief phone call they say the senator made to him on Oct. 29, 2019. After the call ended, Mr. Uribe sent text messages to Ms. Menendez.

“I just got a call and I am a very happy person,” he wrote, adding, “GOD bless you and him for ever.”

Mr. Menendez, who has emphatically maintained his innocence since charges were announced last September, said as he left court on Friday to “stay tuned” until Mr. Uribe could be cross-examined by his lawyers.

“Wait for the cross and find the truth,” Mr. Menendez said.

The senator’s lawyers have adopted a legal strategy of shifting blame for any wrongdoing to Ms. Menendez and of attacking Mr. Uribe’s credibility. One lawyer, Avi Weitzman, told the jury in an opening statement last month that Ms. Menendez hid her financial difficulties from her husband and “kept him in the dark on what she was asking others to give her.”

Of Mr. Uribe, Mr. Weitzman said, “We’ll have a lot to discuss at the end of the case about him, about his lies and his cheating and his crimes and all the ways he’s been incentivized to continue doing all of them.”

In his testimony, Mr. Uribe described a phone call with Ms. Menendez in which he said she acknowledged some aspects of the alleged deal.

Mr. Uribe said that after Ms. Menendez complained she needed a new car, he promised to buy her one if she was able to “help me complete this deal.”

“She agreed to the terms,” Mr. Uribe testified; prosecutors say Mr. Uribe helped to buy her a 2019 Mercedes-Benz C-300 convertible worth more than $60,000.

Mr. Menendez, Mr. Hana and another co-defendant, Fred Daibes, are being tried together in Federal District Court. Ms. Menendez’s trial was postponed by the judge, Sidney H. Stein, until July because she is being treated for breast cancer. All four defendants have pleaded not guilty.

Mr. Uribe, 57, pleaded guilty in March and has been cooperating with the government.

Anna Harden

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