Former New Jersey attorney general describes difficult encounter with Menendez

The September 2019 meeting was brief – and delicate.

Senator Robert Menendez had summoned New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal to his office in Newark. Mr. Grewal, testifying Thursday at the senator’s federal corruption trial in Manhattan, said he arrived with one of his top aides, Andrew Bruck.

After an exchange of pleasantries, the senator expressed displeasure with the way Hispanic defendants linked to the trucking industry were being treated by prosecutors in the case of Mr. Grewal’s insurance fraud unit.

The attorney general said he asked whether the senator’s concerns were related to a specific case pending before his office. When we told him yes, he immediately cut the conversation short.

“I didn’t know about the case. I didn’t want to know about the affair,” Mr. Grewal said, adding: “It wasn’t something I was comfortable talking about.”

After leaving the building, Mr. Grewal and Mr. Bruck took a break before getting into a waiting car.

“Andrew said, ‘Whoa, that was disgusting,'” Mr. Grewal said.

Mr. Grewal was the second witness in Mr. Menendez’s corruption trial to describe the content and details of a direct conversation with Mr. Menendez — exchanges that are at the heart of prosecutors’ claims that the senator used his political influence on behalf of people who rewarded him and his wife, Nadine Menendez, with bribes.

Prosecutors said Mr. Menendez contacted Mr. Grewal on behalf of an ally, Jose Uribe, who had sought the senator’s help in trying to overturn an insurance fraud case involving two of Mr. Les associates of Uribe. Mr. Uribe, who was indicted last year for an alleged corruption conspiracy, pleaded guilty in March and is now cooperating with prosecutors.

Mr. Uribe admitted in court during his guilty plea that he provided a Mercedes-Benz convertible to Ms. Menendez in an attempt to influence the senator; Mr. Uribe is expected to testify on Friday.

Mr. Grewal told the juniors that Mr. Menendez was polite and made no specific requests, although his displeasure was clear.

“From what I understand, the outcome of the conversation was that he didn’t like the way our office was handling this matter and he wanted them to handle it differently,” said Mr. Grewal, who never mentioned the conversation to prosecutors in the insurance fraud unit.

“I don’t want my teams to feel pressured or intimidated in any way,” he said. “I want them to make decisions about their cases based on the facts of the case before them.” »

Being called as a witness in a criminal trial was an unusual role for Mr. Grewal, a former federal prosecutor who now heads the enforcement division of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Mr. Menendez turned to look directly at Mr. Grewal as he slowly walked to the stand to offer nearly three hours of testimony.

The New Jersey insurance fraud investigation involved an associate of Mr. Uribe and a woman he considered family. It seemed to consume Mr. Uribe, according to dozens of text messages he sent to Ms. Menendez and a businessman accused of conspiracy, Wael Hana.

Mr. Grewal’s cousin, Balpreet Grewal-Virk, was friends with the senator and his wife and sometimes traveled with the couple; she was with them in India in October 2019 when the senator proposed to Ms. Menendez in front of the Taj Mahal.

Mr. Grewal said his cousin asked him if she could share her cellphone number with Mr. Méndez.

And in January 2019, a few months before they met in Newark, Mr. Menendez contacted him on his cell phone. The conversation lasted about seven minutes, and for the most part, Mr. Grewal said it resembled their face-to-face discussion.

But it was clear from the text messages Mr. Uribe sent to Ms. Menendez that the problem was not resolved.

“I need peace,” Mr. Uribe said in a text message to Ms. Menendez in September. 3, 2019, at 10:17 p.m. The next morning, Mr. Menendez made a second call to Mr. Grewal to set up the meeting in his Senate office in Newark.

Mr. Uribe appeared to be aware of the meeting, according to a text message he sent to Ms. Menendez that morning. “Thank you for everything you do for me. I pray,” he wrote, “today’s meeting is in GOD’s hands. »

Mr. Grewal’s appearance came during the fourth week of the trial of Mr. Méndez, Mr. Hana and another businessman, Fred Daibes, in Manhattan federal court. MS. Menendez was also charged in that case, but the judge, Sidney H. Stein, postponed her trial until July because she is being treated for breast cancer. All four defendants have pleaded not guilty.

The senator’s lawyers have sought to distance their client from Ms. Menendez, suggesting that she kept her dire financial situation — as well as her requests for money from friends — a secret from her husband. Prosecutors have sought to undermine that strategy, and Mr. Grewal appears to be a central aspect of that effort, given that the government says Mr. Menendez personally called the attorney general and later met with him in an effort to s ‘interfere in a criminal investigation.

The New Jersey Attorney General exercises broad authority over all law enforcement agencies in the state, including the state police, the 21 county prosecutors’ offices, and hundreds of municipal police departments . In New Jersey, attorneys general are appointed by the governor and confirmed by attorneys in the state Senate.

Mr. Menendez’s lawyers, in pretrial legal filings, noted that the senator, a federal official, had no jurisdiction over state prosecutors because they claimed that contacts he had with Mr. Grewal could not be considered an official act.

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