Businessman asks Senator Menendez for help in stopping criminal investigation • New Jersey Monitor

During the month-long bribery trial of Senator Bob Menendez, defense attorneys repeatedly insisted that the favors, which federal prosecutors classified as bribes, merely represented “constituent services” that the Democrat had performed in public service over the course of his long career.

But co-defendant Jose Uribe torpedoed that idea on Monday in Manhattan, on Uribe's second day in the dock, with a single, fleeting sentence.

“I saved your ass not once, but twice,” Uribe said the senator told him in Spanish.

Uribe testified that Menendez told him this at a dinner in the summer of 2020 suggested by Nadine Menendez, the senator's then-girlfriend and now wife, to celebrate their successful “deal.”

Under a two-part agreement he forged with co-defendant Wael Hana in the spring of 2018, Uribe and his friends wanted the senator to accomplish two things for them. First, to stop the state's prosecution of Elvis Parra, Uribe's friend and trucking company owner, for insurance fraud. And second, to end the related, expanding investigation that threatened Uribe's own company, Phoenix Risk Management. In return, Uribe, Parra and Parra's business partner Bienvenido Hernandez would pay Hana $200,000 to $250,000 while Hana bought Nadine a Mercedes-Benz convertible, Uribe testified.

Uribe testified that he exchanged text messages and phone calls with Nadine Menendez about the plot for more than two years and that he attended so many restaurant meetings – with the Menendez brothers and others involved – that the courtroom erupted in laughter when Judge Sidney H. Stein interrupted Uribe's description of one of those rendezvous with the question, “Another restaurant?”

The night Menendez made the “little ass” comment, Uribe told jurors that Menendez acted like “a person who was proud and confident that he had made it.”

Most of Monday's testimony seemed designed to underscore what the senator knew and did during a trial in which both sides agreed that Nadine Menendez regularly acted as a go-between, connecting her powerful partner with well-funded friends and acquaintances interested in his influence.

Uribe took the witness stand for the first time on Friday and dropped a bombshell in the first minutes of his testimony, bluntly telling jurors that he bribed Menendez and his wife to gain the senator's influence. In March, he pleaded guilty and testified against his co-defendants as part of a cooperation agreement.

On Monday, he shared the salacious details of the alleged scheme, telling jurors that Nadine Menendez arranged a meeting between Uribe and the senator in the backyard of her Englewood Cliffs home in September 2019. There, the two men talked for about an hour over a glass of Grand Marnier about an investigation by the New Jersey Attorney General's Office into insurance fraud, Uribe testified.

“I ask him to do everything in his power” to learn about the investigation and stop it, Uribe testified.

Uribe said Menendez asked him to write down the names of the people and companies involved, but neither man had any paper. Menendez rang a small bell he had on a table and called out to Nadine, “mon amour,” Uribe testified.

Nadine brought paper, Uribe wrote down the details and the senator put it in a meeting he had scheduled for the next day to discuss the investigation, Uribe said.

Later, Uribe testified, Menendez called him and said: “What you asked me for is nothing. I give you peace.”

“What did you mean by that?” Public Prosecutor Lara asked Pomerantz.

“My family was safe and I had peace. I was happy,” Uribe said.

Gurbir Grewal, the former New Jersey Attorney General who met Menendez the day after the Uribe-Menendez meeting in Englewood Cliffs, told the jury last week he does not discuss open criminal cases with outsiders and interrupted the senator during that meeting when he realized what was going on. He did “nothing” to respond to Menendez's request, Grewal testified.

But Uribe told jurors Monday that he, Parra, Hernandez and Hana considered Menendez's intervention successful. Parra, who faced prison time, instead received probation when he pleaded guilty in June 2019. The men met for a banquet, and Hernandez and Parra paid Hana $125,000 in cash, Uribe said.

“He was happy. We were happy for him,” Uribe said. “After part one was completed, I had no doubt that part two would be completed.”

Uribe continued to pay for Nadine Menendez's car and had no idea his criminal troubles were not over until June 2022, when FBI agents knocked on his door, confiscated his phone and told him he was under investigation, he testified.

Six months later, Nadine Menendez sent Uribe's lawyer a short note and a check for $21,000, saying it was to repay Uribe's “personal loan,” Uribe testified. He told jurors he and Nadine never made an agreement that she would pay the money back – and the $21,000 was less than he had spent on her car so far anyway.

Uribe spent most of Monday under direct questioning by Pomerantz. Hana's lawyer Ricardo Solano Jr. began cross-examining him shortly before dinner, underscoring Uribe's admissions that Uribe – not Hana – contacted Nadine Menendez directly, held a fundraiser for the senator's re-election campaign that raised $50,000, and bought Nadine Menendez the car.

The trial is scheduled to resume on Tuesday morning, with cross-examination of Uribe continuing.

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Anna Harden

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