Jose Uribe describes asking Sen. Bob Menendez for help in killing criminal probe

Throughout his month-old bribery trial, Sen. Bob Menendez’s defense attorneys have repeatedly insisted the favors federal prosecutors have deemed bribes were merely “constituent service” the Democrat did in a long career dedicated to public service.

But co-defendant Jose Uribe torpedoed that notion in one blink-and-miss-it sentence in Manhattan on Monday, Uribe’s second day on the stand.

“I saved your little a** not once, but twice,” Uribe said the senator told him in Spanish.

Uribe testified that Menendez told him this during a summer 2020 dinner Nadine Menendez, the senator’s then-girlfriend and current wife, had suggested to celebrate their successful “deal.”

Under a two-part arrangement first forged with co-defendant Wael Hana in the spring of 2018, Uribe said, he and his friends wanted the senator to accomplish two things for them. First, kill the state’s insurance fraud prosecution of Elvis Parra, Uribe’s friend and a trucking company owner. And two, end the related, expanding investigation that threatened Uribe’s own business, Phoenix Risk Management. In exchange, Uribe, Parra and Parra’s business partner Bienvenido Hernandez were to pay Hana $200,000 to $250,000, while Hana would buy Nadine a Mercedes-Benz convertible, Uribe testified.

Manhattan, NY — October 18, 2023 -- Jose Uribe involved in the bribery case involving Senator Robert Menendez enters the Federal Courthouse in lower Manhattan for a hearing on corruption charges.
Manhattan, NY — October 18, 2023 -- Jose Uribe involved in the bribery case involving Senator Robert Menendez enters the Federal Courthouse in lower Manhattan for a hearing on corruption charges.

Uribe testified he had spent more than two years trading texts and calls about the scheme with Nadine Menendez and had so many restaurant meetings — with the Menendezes and others associated — that the courtroom erupted in laughter when Judge Sidney H. Stein interrupted Uribe’s retelling of one rendezvous to say: “Another restaurant?”

The night Menendez made the “little a**” comment, Uribe told jurors Menendez acted like “a person that was proud and confident that he managed to get this done.”

Most of Monday’s testimony seemed intended to underscore what the senator knew and did, during a trial where both sides agree Nadine Menendez routinely acted as an intermediary who connected her powerful partner with deep-pocketed friends and acquaintances who wanted his influence.

Uribe first took the stand Friday and offered a bombshell in his first few minutes of testimony, telling jurors flat-out that he bribed Menendez and his wife in a bid to obtain the senator’s influence. He pleaded guilty in March and testified against his co-defendants in a cooperation deal.

Monday, he shared the tawdry details of the alleged schemes, telling jurors that Nadine Menendez arranged for Uribe to meet the senator in September 2019 in the backyard of her Englewood Cliffs home, where the two men talked for about an hour over glasses of Grand Marnier about an insurance fraud probe by the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office, Uribe testified.

“I beg him to please do anything in his power” to learn about the investigation and stop it, Uribe testified.

Uribe said Menendez asked him to write down the names of the pertinent people and companies, but neither man had any paper. Menendez rang a little bell he had on a table and called for Nadine by summoning “mon amour,” Uribe testified.

Nadine brought paper, Uribe jotted down the details, and the senator stuck it in his pocket for a meeting he mentioned he had scheduled the next day to discuss the investigation, Uribe said.

Later, Uribe testified, Menendez called him to say, “That thing that you asked me about, there’s nothing there. I give you your peace.”

“What did you understand him to be talking about?” prosecutor Lara Pomerantz asked.

“My family was safe and I was in peace. I was happy,” Uribe said.

Gurbir Grewal, the former New Jersey attorney general who met Menendez the day after the Englewood Cliffs meeting between Uribe and Menendez, told jurors last week he doesn’t discuss open criminal cases with any outsiders and cut the senator off during that meeting when he realized where it was going. He did “nothing” in response to Menendez’s request, Grewal testified.

But Uribe told jurors Monday that he, Parra, Hernandez and Hana considered Menendez’s intervention to be successful. Parra, who faced jail time, instead got probation when he pleaded guilty in June 2019. The men met for a celebratory dinner, and Hernandez and Parra paid Hana $125,000 in cash, Uribe said.

“He was happy. We were happy for him,” Uribe said. “Being that part one is done, then I didn’t have doubt that part two was going to be completed.”

Special report: Jose Uribe flipped. Here's why he bribed Bob Menendez with a new Mercedes

Uribe continued to pay for Nadine Menendez’s car and had no idea his criminal troubles weren’t over until June 2022, when FBI agents came knocking on his door, seized his phone, and told him he was under investigation, he testified.

Six months later, Nadine Menendez mailed Uribe’s attorney a brief note and a $21,000 check, saying it was repayment for Uribe’s “personal loan,” Uribe testified. He told jurors he and Nadine never had any agreement that she would repay the money — and that the $21,000 was less than he’d spent so far on her car anyway.

Uribe spent most of Monday under direct questioning by Pomerantz. Hana’s attorney Ricardo Solano Jr. started cross-examining him as the dinner hour approached, underscoring Uribe’s admissions that Uribe — not Hana — reached out to Nadine Menendez directly, hosted a fundraiser for the senator’s reelection campaign that raised $50,000, and bought Nadine Menendez the car.

The trial resumed Tuesday morning, with cross-examination of Uribe continuing.

Editor's note: This story was originally published by the New Jersey Monitor, for which Dana DeFilippo is a staff writer. The New Jersey Monitor is part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.

This article originally appeared on Jose Uribe describes asking Bob Menendez for help with criminal probe