Bob Menendez Meeting With New Jersey AG Was ‘Gross,’ Jury Told

(Bloomberg) -- New Jersey’s former attorney general Gurbir Grewal told a federal jury that Senator Robert Menendez twice reached out to him to complain about how the state’s insurance fraud office was unfairly treating Hispanic defendants.

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Grewal, now the enforcement chief at the US Securities and Exchange Commission, said at the senator’s bribery trial that one of the encounters with Menendez led one of his top deputies in the Attorney General’s office to exclaim “that was gross.” Grewal said that Menendez first called him to raise concerns shortly after he became AG in early 2019.

Federal prosecutors in Manhattan say Menendez tried to pressure Grewal to “favorably resolve” two criminal matters at the behest of a businessman who allegedly bribed the Democratic senator with a $60,000 Mercedes-Benz convertible for his wife, Nadine.

“I believe he said to me he had concerns about how my office, the Office of Insurance Fraud Prosecutors, was treating Hispanic defendants versus non-Hispanic defendants in the trucking industry,” Grewal said. “I said ‘is this about a pending criminal matter?’ to which he responded ‘Yes,’” Grewal said.

The 70-year-old Menendez, who has said he’s innocent, didn’t seek the Democratic nomination for his seat this week, but filed to run as an independent instead. In addition to the Mercedes from Jose Uribe, the senator is accused of taking gold bars and cash from a group of Egyptian businessmen.

Prosecutors say Menendez contacted Grewal on behalf of Uribe, who sought help from the senator in an effort to halt an insurance fraud case that the attorney general’s office was pursuing against two associates. Uribe, who was also charged in the alleged bribery conspiracy, pleaded guilty in March and is expected to testify Friday.

Grewal said Menendez told him New Jersey lawyer Michael Critchley was representing the Hispanic defendants. “I responded that Michael is one of the finest lawyers in New Jersey and he can raise whatever concerns he has with the staff and with the team handling the matter,” Grewal said.

The senator quickly ended the call, Grewal said.

Menendez then invited Grewal to his Newark office for a September 2019 meeting, he said. Grewal said he thought the senator wanted to discuss policy issues and asked Andrew Bruck, one of his colleagues, to accompany him.

“In sum, it was the same as the phone conversation,” Grewal testified. “The senator had a folder in front of him, he opened it up and he raised the same issue he raised on the phone call, how our Office of Insurance Fraud Prosecutor was treating Hispanic defendants versus non-Hispanic defendants. My reaction was ‘Is this the same matter involving Mike Critchley?’”

Grewal said when he learned it was, he told Menendez “to raise those issues with the prosecutors handling the case, saying he insisted, ‘I can’t talk to you about those issues.’”

Grewal said the meeting soon ended and on the way back to their office, Bruck turned to him and said, “Whoa, that was gross.”

Grewal served as New Jersey attorney general from 2018 to 2021, when he left for the SEC. Bruck served as acting state attorney general from July 2021 to February 2022. Bruck is now a top official at the US Department of Justice.

Judge Sidney Stein asked Grewal if Menendez pushed him to take any particular action.

“There wasn’t an explicit ask,” Grewal said. “What I understood was, the upshot was, that he didn’t like how this matter was being handled by the office.”

Asked by Menendez’s lawyer, Avi Weitzman, if Menendez threatened to retaliate against Grewal or his office, Grewal said, “I was concerned about upsetting someone who was a close personal ally of the governor,” Grewal said. “That was my concern.”

Grewal said Menendez’s outreach was “pretty unprecedented in my experience.”

But the senator “did not ask me to put my thumb on the scales of justice,” he said. “What I did understand and what raised these concerns was that he did not like the way we were handling the case.”

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