Key prosecution witness says he bribed New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez

New Jersey businessman Jose Uribe testified Friday that he bribed Sen. Bob Menendez as part of a scheme to derail the prosecution of an associate and shield Uribe and his close friends and family from being dragged into a related investigation.

Four weeks into the New Jersey Democrat’s corruption trial in Manhattan, prosecutors are attempting to piece together, through Uribe, what they have described as a sprawling scheme to trade Menendez’s influence for cash, gold bars and luxury gifts.

On Friday, Menendez turned in his seat to see Uribe enter the court, then watched attentively as the businessman, who is testifying under a cooperation agreement with the government after pleading guilty in March, told the court he had committed federal crimes, including bribery of a public official.

Uribe named and identified Menendez as the person he bribed before describing in broad terms the template of his deal with the senator that allegedly involved giving Menendez’s wife, Nadine, a Mercedes-Benz C300 convertible.

“I (agreed) with Nadine Menendez and other people to provide a car for Nadine in order to get the power and influence of Mr. Menendez,” Uribe said, in order “to help me get a better resolution for one of my associates who was being charged in a criminal matter and to stop and kill investigations that could lead to my daughter and family members.”

The Menendezes, along with New Jersey businessmen Wael Hana and Fred Daibes, are accused of engaging in bribery schemes and acting as foreign agents for the Egyptian government and assisting the government of Qatar. All four have pleaded not guilty. Nadine Menendez will be tried separately this summer.

Uribe’s testimony Friday linked the Mercedes, one of the main alleged bribes, back to Nadine and Bob Menendez and offered insight into Hana’s relationship with the couple. But it is not expected to shed much light on the inner workings of other alleged bribery schemes between Menendez and Hana to benefit the Egyptian and Qatari governments.

Uribe in his testimony described a series of meetings and exchanges, some of them text messages presented to the jury, that connected a vast array of characters who had, before Friday, appeared to operate in separate orbits.

The key initial discussion, though, appears to be one he had with co-defendant Hana – a man Uribe described as being like a brother – in the hallway outside the office of attorney Andy Aslanian in 2018.

Uribe said he was discussing a mess of legal concerns with Aslanian, his lawyer, when Hana, who had been listening in, pulled him aside to offer a simple solution.

“I can make the investigations go away,” Uribe said Hana told him. The particulars, he added, were murky, but Hana insisted that he was close to Menendez and, for between $200,000 and $250,000, could parlay the relationship into an arrangement that would – as he repeatedly said – “stop and kill” an ongoing criminal case that Uribe worried would soon lead investigators to his business and close associates.

Menendez, who has sat impassively throughout four weeks of testimony, appeared to shake his head and shoot a derisive grin at his legal team when Uribe spoke about his yearslong relationship with Hana.

“We considered each other brothers,” Uribe said, before implicating the Egyptian American businessman in a series of federal crimes and describing his friend as an aggressive, sometimes cloying middleman who promised Uribe and his associates more than he could deliver.

Uribe, Hana, and business partners Elvis Parra and Bienvenido Hernandez eventually agreed to meet at a Marriott in Teaneck, New Jersey, where they gathered at the end of a hotel bar to hash out a plan.

“In substance, (Hana) confirmed to all of us that he has a way to make this investigation stop and kill(ed) if he received a sum of somewhere between $200,000 to $250,000,” Uribe testified, adding that Hana namechecked Nadine and Bob Menendez at the meeting but did not specify how they would help.

Uribe ended up arranging a 2018 campaign fundraiser for the senator, at Hana’s suggestion, that he said pulled in about $50,000, $5,000 of which came from his own wallet. Menendez was up for reelection that year, when he won his most recent term. Menendez did not run in the Democratic primary for his seat this year but has filed to appear on the general election ballot on an independent line.

The fundraiser yielded cash for Menendez’s campaign and the kind of good vibes, including drinks and dancing at an afterparty with the senator and his wife, that Uribe said convinced him all was going to plan. He told his family and friends that their legal issues were all but resolved.

“My understanding was that the deal was … in good terms, that what Wael has promised will have a good result,” Uribe said, telling the court he was confident, in that moment, that “this was going to work for all parties.”

But as prosecutors said in their opening statements and a handful of witnesses have testified since, this fast friendship quickly unraveled. A detective for the state Attorney General’s Office who had been poking around Uribe’s business, showed up at one point to interview Ana Peguero, a woman Uribe said he considered – and frequently described on the stand as – his “daughter.” Peguero was the agent of record at his brokerage, he testified. The same detective also traveled to Seattle, Uribe said, to speak to his son, who had moved there to attend law school.

Uribe’s mood, as seen in text messages displayed by prosecutors, soured as the prosecution of Parra and the probe into his own associates continued apace.

“This was not a good time for me,” Uribe said, repeating language from a text message he sent Hana in October 2018 that read “I am f**ked man.”

After a series of failed attempts to jumpstart the arrangement with Hana, including a frustrating lunch with him, Bob and Nadine Menendez in which the deal was never discussed, Uribe said he decided to cut out what he viewed as a feckless middleman and contact Nadine, whose phone number he got from Aslanian.

In their initial phone call in March 2019, Uribe said, “Nadine put a line of complaints about how her life was not going well and that most men that had promised her things in the past never come through.”

Hana was one of them, Uribe said, testifying that Nadine was particularly upset that Hana had not “provided a car that she wanted.” Their concerns now aligned, Uribe said Nadine agreed to an arrangement along the lines he had previously drawn with Hana, now though in exchange for a new Mercedes.

Uribe, who is scheduled to be sentenced later this month, left the courtroom without looking at any of the defendants, keeping his eyes trained on the double doors that marked the exit. Judge Sidney Stein halted the proceedings as business hours came to a close. Uribe will return to the stand and the trial will resume on Monday.

Menendez, seated alone as the court began to clear out, looked down at the table in front of him and shook his head. He then stood up, straightened his coat, and left for the weekend.

This story has been updated with additional information.

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