Businessman who tried to bribe Sen. Bob Menendez with Mercedes testifies

Washington — A key witness in the corruption trial of Sen. Bob Menendez is testifying Friday about what he says was an attempt to bribe the New Jersey Democrat by buying his wife, Nadine Menendez, a new Mercedes-Benz convertible. 

Jose Uribe, a New Jersey insurance broker who was indicted with Menendez, pleaded guilty in March and confessed to buying a $60,000 luxury car to influence the senator. He is cooperating with prosecutors. 

During the March hearing, Uribe said he conspired with the senator’s wife and others to buy her the car in exchange for her husband “using his power and influence as a United States senator to get a favorable outcome and to stop all investigations related to one of my associates,” according to the Associated Press

He also told the judge he wanted to stop a “possible investigation into another person who I considered to be a member of my family,” adding that he concealed his involvement in the car payments “because I knew it was wrong.” 

Throughout the senator’s corruption trial, which is in its fourth week, prosecutors have used text messages, emails, voice mails and financial records to portray the senator and his wife as collaborators in a complex bribery scheme that involved a halal meat monopoly, the Egyptian and Qatari governments and trying to influence several criminal investigations. 

The senator is being tried alongside two New Jersey businessmen — Wael Hana, the owner of a halal certification startup, and Fred Daibes, a real estate developer. All three have pleaded not guilty. Nadine Menendez’s trial was delayed until later this summer as she undergoes treatment for breast cancer. She has pleaded not guilty. 

Sen. Robert Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey, center, exits federal court in New York on Wednesday, June 5, 2024.
Sen. Robert Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey, center, exits federal court in New York on Wednesday, June 5, 2024. Alex Kent/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Hana connected Uribe to the couple after Nadine Menendez was involved in a car crash that killed a pedestrian in December 2018. Nadine Menendez, who was not charged in the death, had been complaining to Hana about her lack of a car after the crash, according to text messages presented by prosecutors as evidence. 

Meanwhile, Uribe was desperate to help a business associate who was charged with insurance fraud and an employee who was under investigation, according to prosecutors. 

In January 2019, prosecutors say, the senator called New Jersey’s attorney general, Gurbir Grewal, to try to disrupt the insurance fraud case. The alleged interference didn’t work, however, and Uribe’s business associate eventually pleaded guilty. But the investigation into Uribe’s employee, who he said he considered to be a family member, continued. 

Uribe and Nadine Menendez came to an agreement that he would buy her the car she needed and the senator, whom she would marry the next year, would try to make the investigation go away, prosecutors say. 

Nadine Menendez had her new car by early April 2019, after meeting Uribe in a restaurant parking lot where he gave her $15,000 in cash for a down payment, according to the indictments. 

“Congratulations mon amour de la vie we are the proud owners of a 2019 Mercedes,” she allegedly texted the senator. 

Uribe later arranged car payments, texting an associate, “I don’t want to use anything with my name on it,” according to messages prosecutors showed jurors.

Months later, prosecutors say Uribe texted Nadine Menendez about the employee. “Please help,” the text said. 

“I will not let you down,” Nadine Menendez allegedly responded. 

“We need to make things go away,” Uribe said, according to prosecutors. 

The senator reached out to Grewal, the attorney general, days later to set up a meeting. Grewal testified about the January 2019 call with Menendez and the September 2019 meeting at the senator’s Newark office. 

The call was short and Menendez “raised a concern about my office’s handling of matters involving Hispanic defendants as compared to non-Hispanic defendants — in particular, matters handled by the office of the insurance fraud prosecutor,” Grewal said, adding that he asked Menendez if the concern was “about a pending criminal manner, to which he responded, ‘yes.'” 

Grewal brought another attorney from his office to the September meeting in which Menendez again raised the issue, he testified. 

“I can’t talk to you about this,” Grewal recalled telling Menendez. 

Once the two left the meeting with Menendez, Grewal said the other attorney turned to him and said, “Whoa, that was gross.” 

When asked by Menendez’s attorney whether the senator threatened him, Grewal said, “No.” 

After the FBI searched the Menendezes’ home in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, in June 2022, where agents discovered stacks of cash, gold bars and the Mercedes, Nadine Menendez and Uribe met to discuss what he would say if asked about the car payments, according to what he told the court when he pleaded guilty. 

“I told her that I would say a good friend of mine was in a financial situation and I was helping that friend to make the payments on the car, and when she was financially stable, she will pay me back. Nadine says something like, ‘That sounds good,'” Uribe told the judge in March, according to the AP

Prosecutors say the senator then wrote a check to his wife, who then wrote one to Uribe, characterizing it as a loan. That characterization was a lie, an attempt to hide the earlier bribe, prosecutors said.

Menendez’s attorneys have tried to shift any blame to his wife, arguing they lived separate lives and he was largely in the dark about her dealings with the three businessmen accused of bribing them. 

“She kept Bob sidelined from those conversations,” his attorney Avi Weitzman said. 

Nathalie Nieves contributed reporting. 

Original CBS News Link</a