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News / Nation & World

N.J. businessman is star witness in Menendez corruption trial

He says he believed he and senator had a deal to stop investigation into friends, family

By Larry Neumeister, Associated Press
Published: June 7, 2024, 9:12pm

NEW YORK — A New Jersey businessman took his star turn on the witness stand in the bribery case against Sen. Bob Menendez on Friday, telling a jury he believed he had a $200,000-to-$250,000 deal in 2018 for the Democrat to pressure the New Jersey attorney general’s office to stop investigating his friends and family.

Jose Uribe testified in Manhattan federal court, providing key testimony against Menendez and two other businessmen charged in a conspiracy along with Menendez’s wife. Next week, Menendez’s lawyers will get to cross-examine the naturalized U.S. citizen.

“Next week we get the truth,” Menendez said just before stepping into a car that carried him away from Manhattan federal court, where he has been on trial for the last month. Although he generally speaks briefly in Spanish each day leaving court, he made the comment about truth in English.

Uribe, 57, who pleaded guilty to charges in a March cooperation deal, was the star witness for the government in its bid to win a conviction against the senator, who once held the powerful post as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He was forced out of it after charges were lodged last fall.

Menendez, 70, has pleaded not guilty to charges that he accepted gold bars, cash and a luxury car in return for doing favors for the businessmen. Two businessmen and Menendez’s wife, Nadine Menendez, also have pleaded not guilty. Nadine Menendez’s trial has been postponed until at least July after she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Uribe testified that he was close friends with Wael Hana, who is on trial with Menendez, when Hana told him in early 2018 that New Jersey state criminal investigations swirling around the trucking business of a friend of his and his own insurance business could be largely put to rest if he was willing to spend $200,000 to $250,000.

Uribe said Hana told him that he would go to Nadine Arslanian, who had begun dating Menendez that year, and then “Nadine would go to Sen. Menendez,” although Uribe did not testify about how the couple could resolve multiple investigations.

On Thursday, former New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal testified that Menendez — in an early 2019 telephone call and in a September 2019 office meeting — tried to talk to him about a criminal probe. Grewal said he followed his policy and refused to do so, telling Menendez to contact defense lawyers so they could reach out to trial-level prosecutors or the judge.