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Menendez co-defendant who flipped describes attempt to ‘kill’ state investigation

In World
June 08, 2024

Jose Uribe, a New Jersey business person cooperating with federal authorities in the corruption trial of Sen. Bob Menendez, said Friday that he bribed the senator and his now-wife to “stop and kill” an investigation that was circling his insurance business.

By early 2018, the state attorney general’s office had indicted the head of one of the trucking companies Uribe worked with for insurance fraud and a detective had dropped by unannounced at the home of an employee so close to Uribe he considered her his daughter.

Desperate to make the investigation and the prosecution go away, Uribe looked for an easy way out. Uribe testified that Wael “Will” Hana told Uribe he had friends who could help — Bob and Nadine Menendez.

Hana, an Egyptian-American business person also now accused of bribing Menendez, then shared an office space with Uribe’s attorney. There, Hana overheard Uribe’s legal troubles and pulled Uribe into a hallway. Hana said that for somewhere between $200,000 and $250,000 he had “a way to make these things go away,” Uribe testified.

Uribe said he and Hana, plus two truckers atop companies being investigated, met at a bar in the lobby of a Marriott in Teaneck, New Jersey, to finalize the deal.

“The deal is to kill and stop all investigation,” Uribe texted Hana in April 2018, a message Uribe said was meant to confirm the deal made during the Marriott meeting.

Uribe was indicted last fall along with both Menendezes.

Uribe, Hana and New Jersey real estate developer Fred Daibes were charged with a tangle of bribes. But, unlike the others, who maintain their innocence, Uribe pleaded guilty earlier this year to bribery and other charges and took the stand Friday as part a cooperation agreement with prosecutors.

During two hours of testimony, which will continue Monday, he covered events through March 2019, just after he said he promised to buy a car for Nadine Menendez — who was known as Nadine Arslanian at the time, before her fall 2020 marriage to the senator. She is also charged in the case but will stand trial separately after being diagnosed with breast cancer.

During the period covered by his testimony so far, Uribe said he’d had hosted a fundraiser for Menendez where he said $50,000 was raised. Uribe said he hosted the event to get “better standing” with the senator “for the deal.” Jurors were shown a photo of Uribe and the senator at the fundraiser, along with Elvis Parra, the indicted trucker Uribe was trying to help.

Uribe also said he’d had drinks or dinner with the senator that year. But he did not testify to any conversation with the senator where they discussed the bribes or specific cases Uribe wanted him to stop and kill, including Parra’s. While Uribe pleaded guilty to bribing a public official, he testified that Nadine accepted the bribes he paid.

Uribe and the senator had other in-person meetings later in 2019, which next week’s testimony is expected to detail.

By fall 2018, Uribe was texting Hana in despair that a detective was still seeking to interview Ana Peguero, the employee Uribe considered his daughter — months after he thought he had a deal with Hana.

He texted Hana, “I am fucked man.” On the witness stand, federal prosecutor Lara Pomerantz asked Uribe to explain what he meant. “I hate to repeat the word,” Uribe said, “but I was fucked. That’s how I felt.”

Still, nothing happened. So, in early March 2019, Uribe said, he talked directly with Nadine. He said he listened to her complain about the men in her life, including Hana, who had let her down. Uribe said Nadine told him Hana had promised her a car. Uribe said that instead he would buy her a car “as soon as she helps me.”

Testimony is expected to resume on Monday, where Uribe will discuss the Mercedes-Benz he said he bought Nadine Menendez as a bribe. This week, prosecutors introduced evidence showing Nadine Menendez struggling to buy a Mercedes on her own, Uribe looking for cash just as she goes to make a down payment and that Uribe got her Social Security number to make further monthly payments for a new Mercedes.

The former attorney general of New Jersey, Gurbir Grewal, also testified this week about two interactions with the senator where Menendez attempted to discuss specific insurance matters affecting Hispanic truckers in 2019. Grewal said he did not know the name of the cases or act based on the conversations with Menendez.

Leaving the courthouse Friday, Menendez said his legal team was ready to cross examine Uribe when the time comes. An attorney for Hana said there was no testimony to show a conspiratorial agreement among the men.

Uribe is perhaps the least known of the four people indicted along with Menendez last fall and his troubled legal history is likely to come up in cross examination. Uribe shut down one company he ran in 2011 after he lost his insurance license for fraud. But he opened another company in other people’s names that same year — the company that was later investigated by the state attorney general’s office. Uribe admitted on the stand that he ran that business, though in fact he did not have an insurance license and so was not allowed to be in the business.

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